Peninsula schools adapt to keep up with growing case numbers

Nikiski North Star Elementary and Skyview Middle School each reported a positive COVID case Monday.

Risk levels

Risk levels

The peninsula has not been immune to a statewide surge in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks, which has forced the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to quickly adapt to the changing circumstances. In a fall semester that has already seen schools shift from low to medium to high risk, and back again, a lot has happened in a short amount of time.

Nikiski North Star Elementary and Skyview Middle School reported a positive COVID-19 case each on Monday, according to KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff. The district learned about the cases on Monday and was able to successfully conduct contact tracing, with individuals identified as close contacts told to quarantine for 14 days. Because contact tracing was completed, Erkeneff said, both schools will be open for on-site learning Tuesday.

Eastern Peninsula

Eastern Peninsula schools, which include Seward Elementary School, Seward Middle School, Seward High School and Moose Pass School, are currently operating at high-risk levels, meaning buildings are closed to students and learning is 100% remote.

The schools shifted to 100% remote learning on Oct. 9 after a case of COVID-19 was found to be connected to one of the Seward schools. On Oct. 7, the eastern peninsula saw enough cases to shift schools from medium to high risk, however, the district said they would not do so because none of the cases were directly connected to schools at the time.

The schools will continue 100% remote learning until at least Oct. 16, with the district saying they will announce sometime this week whether or not remote learning will continue through next week as well.

Southern Peninsula

As of Monday, the southern peninsula was operating at low risk with the exception of McNeil Canyon Elementary School, which shifted to 100% remote learning on Oct. 12, after a new COVID-19 case was found to be connected to someone at the school.

According to a district announcement, the district first learned about the case on Sunday, Oct. 11 and is now conducting contract tracing. The case potentially affects all kindergarten through third grade classes. The district said they will be personally calling all close contacts on Monday and that those individuals must quarantine for 14 days.

In addition to the case connected to McNeil Canyon Elementary, two cases were confirmed among football coaches at Homer High School, prompting the school’s football program to quarantine for two weeks. The school otherwise continues to operate in person.

Southern peninsula schools include Chapman School, Fireweed Academy, Homer Flex School, Homer High School, Homer Middle School, Kachemak Selo School, McNeil Canyon Elementary, Nikolaevsk School, Ninilchik School, Paul Banks Elementary, Razdolna School, Voznesenka School and West Homer Elementary School.

Central Peninsula

Central peninsula schools are operating at medium-risk levels, meaning buildings are open with possible social distancing protocols in place, according to the district’s Smart Start plan.

In the last 14-days, the central peninsula reported 47 positive cases of COVID-19. The central peninsula is considered low risk when there have been 25 or fewer cases in the last two weeks, medium risk when there have been 26 to 51 cases in the last two weeks and high risk when there have been 52 or more cases in the last two weeks.

The two new cases reported at Nikiski North Star Elementary and Skyview Middle School have the district preparing for all 17 central peninsula schools to move to 100% learning next week if cases continue to increase, which they formally announced on Monday.

Central peninsula schools include Aurora Borealis Charter School, K-Beach Elementary, Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Sciences, Kenai Alternative School, Kenai Central High School, Kenai Middle School, Marathon School, Mountain View Elementary School, Nikiski Middle-High School, Nikiski North Star Elementary, Redoubt Elementary, River City Academy, Skyview Middle School, Soldotna Elementary, Soldotna High School, Soldotna Montessori Charter School, Sterling Elementary and Tustumena Elementary.

In addition to region-specific protocols, people at all district schools who attended or participated in the 2020 Termination Dust Invitational must quarantine for two weeks after a cluster was reported at the youth hockey tournament in Anchorage.

According to previous reporting, more than 300 people attended or participated in the tournament, which was held from Oct. 2-4 at the Ben Boeke and Dempsey Anderson arenas.

KPBSD Superintendent John O’Brien announced on Oct. 9 that the start of the district’s high school hockey season, which was scheduled to begin on Oct. 14, would be postponed until Oct. 19. According to the district, the last day of the quarantine for people who attended the tournament will be Sun. Oct. 18, and they will be allowed to return to school on Mon. Oct. 19.

Erkeneff said that she has received questions about why some peoples’ quarantine periods are longer than others, and clarified that the 14-day clock begins from when someone was last around the person who tested positive for COVID-19.

Updates are posted regularly on KPBSD’s communications blog.

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

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