The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District plans to open central peninsula schools to on-site learning Tuesday, according to a Wednesday press release from the district.
The first day of school in the district was Aug. 24. Superintendent John O’Brien announced Aug. 18 that, due to rising levels of COVID-19 cases on the central peninsula, central peninsula schools would be at 100% remote learning until at least Tuesday.
On Aug. 18, the central peninsula had seen 63 cases of COVID-19 in the last 14 days, putting the area at high-risk level.
Since then, cases have dropped. Wednesday, the central peninsula had 32 cases in the last 14 days, putting the area at medium-risk level. In the last seven days, the central peninsula has had 10 cases.
Pegge Erkeneff, director of communications, community and government relations for the district, said O’Brien consulted risk levels, the seven-day trend and the COVID-19 Community Risk Level Medical Advisory Group in making the decision to plan to open Tuesday.
“Thank you to everyone who is doing your part to keep schools open by practicing physical distancing, wearing a facemask when needed, and for frequent hand washing,” O’Brien said in a released statement. “You are making a difference.
“Let us not let our collective guard down! Have a safe holiday weekend!”
With a holiday weekend coming up, Erkeneff noted the advice of Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer. Erkeneff said Zink has said Alaska needs to open schools during a pandemic, but the hard part will be keeping them open.
“Please be safe with everyone out and about right now,” Erkeneff said. “COVID is still in our community so make sure if you’re not feeling well stay home and do get tested. We don’t want a false low count because people are not testing.”
With the new coronavirus, case counts can change rapidly. Erkeneff said the announcement was made Wednesday to give teachers and students time to plan.
Students still have the option of 100% remote learning. Erkeneff said some parents and guardians have not yet decided if their students will be in school.
“We ask that everyone make sure they communicate with their school and let them know if their child is coming to school Tuesday,” Erkeneff said.
The plan to open schools Tuesday also triggers a change in the Get It and Go Meals plan.
When schools are closed due to high-risk levels, all students are eligible for free meals. When schools open to on-site learning, students return to their meal determination of free, reduced or paid.
When schools are open to on-site learning, Get It and Go Meals are no longer picked up every day. 100% remote learners order meals by Friday at noon and pick all of the week’s meals up Wednesday from 10 to 10:30 a.m.
Students attending school return to their normal meals plan.
Erkeneff also reminded parents and guardians that masks are required for all students on the bus. Students in third through 12th grade will need masks when 6 feet of social distancing is not possible.
Schools on the eastern peninsula, southern peninsula and remote communities have been open to on-site learning since Aug. 24.
Erkeneff said that has set up a situation where teachers worried about how on-site learning will work can talk to teachers already doing that. Teachers worried about a shift to 100% remote learning can talk to teachers who have already done that.
Erkeneff said the announcement that all of the district’s schools will be open to on-site learning generated excitement that only kids can bring. Soldotna Elementary and Soldotna Montessori are visible from Erkeneff’s office.
“I’ll be able to hear kids laughing on the playground,” Erkeneff said. “I haven’t heard that since March.”