Soldotna assistant football coach Eric Pomerleau checks the temperature of sophomore Joseph Whittom before summer workouts Wednesday, June 17, 2020, at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna assistant football coach Eric Pomerleau checks the temperature of sophomore Joseph Whittom before summer workouts Wednesday, June 17, 2020, at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Masks optional for KPBSD staff, students effective next week

The policy change is in response to updated guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District students will not be required to wear face masks when attending school, effective June 14, the district announced Wednesday. The June 14 effective date will align with KPBSD’s Summer Learning and Extended School Year programs for students and staff.

KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland said in a release that the policy change is in response to updated guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the use of masks among people who are vaccinated against COVID-19, as well as a decline in COVID-19 case rates across the state and the expansion of vaccine eligibility to people as young as 12.

“The summer is the perfect time to make this change as there are fewer students in our buildings and the temperatures allow our staff to increase outdoor instruction and activity time,” Holland wrote. “As we move through the summer we will continue to monitor local transmission levels and keep track of State and CDC recommendations related to mitigation plans in our schools.”

Per KPBSD’s new guidance for school operations, face coverings for non-vaccinated staff are “strongly” encouraged and face coverings for all students are optional and informed by parental preference. Masks for fully vaccinated school visitors is optional, while visitors who are not fully vaccinated are “strongly advised” to wear masks.

Additionally, physical distancing of 3 feet or more will be encouraged for people working with others indoors and the district will continue to follow the Symptom Free Schools protocol. Anyone who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or who has recently been exposed to someone who is COVID-19 positive will “need to remain at home.”

KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said Wednesday that if risk levels remain low, the revised guidelines will remain in place for school district operations.

“It’s possible a specific school may need a different response in the future if there’s an outbreak, and KPBSD will continue to implement ASAA guidelines for sports and activities,” Erkeneff said.

Erkeneff added that the school district does not track COVID-19 vaccinations among district students or staff, but does share information about community partner vaccine clinics and opportunities. Additional information about COVID-19 testing availability in KPBSD schools will be available later in the summer, Erkeneff said, but those details and the process are not yet finalized.

The announcement comes after a tumultuous school year for the district, which saw KPBSD administration and some community members clash over the district’s COVID-19 mitigation policies, which some said went too far. Most district students alternated between attending classes in person and attending classes remotely as the rate of COVID-19 transmission in their communities ebbed and flowed.

Students in all grades were allowed to resume in-person learning five days a week beginning Feb. 1 with additional COVID-19 mitigation measures in place.

Holland’s full release and more information about the updated guidance can be found on KPBSD’s communications site.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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