The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Schools aim for business as usual as cases reach new highs

On Monday, there were 14 staff members and 69 students self-isolating with the virus

Even amid a recent statewide COVID-19 spike that has seen the highest case rates of the pandemic so far, most everything is business as usual in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said Monday.

“So far, we’ve still been able to keep our lunches being served, our buses running, and classrooms are operating,” she said. “Our staff are really stepping up and helping out and volunteers are helping; substitutes are coming in.”

According to data from the district’s COVID dashboard on Monday, there were 14 staff members and 69 students currently self-isolating with the virus. The seven-day average case rates on the central peninsula, south peninsula and east peninsula were all high.

Erkeneff said that while positive staff and students as well as those identified as close contacts are contributing to absenteeism, the district emphasizes the importance of in-person learning.

“The superintendent and the school board and administration have a very high priority to keep in-person learning happening,” she said. “So we’ve got lots of layered mitigations that are working.”

Some of those measures include isolation and masking when COVID levels are high. As of Monday, 18 schools in the district were operating with universal masking in place, Erkeneff said.

The schools operating with universal masking were Fireweed Academy, Homer Flex School, Homer High School, Homer Middle School, Kachemak Selo School, Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Sciences, K-Beach Elementary, Mountain View Elementary, Paul Banks Elementary, Port Graham School, Redoubt Elementary, River City Academy, Seward Elementary, Seward High School, Skyview Middle School, Soldotna Elementary, Susan B. English School and West Homer Elementary.

One of the newest policy changes is early release Fridays.

“One of the things that did go into place starting last Friday is an early release day,” Erkeneff said. “All of our schools are staying open right now. It’s a big lift for everybody, you know, people are really tired.”

She said early dismissal times on Fridays, which are in effect until spring break, are supposed to help both staff and students get caught up in school work and lesson planning.

“I know the superintendent has heard some really positive things,” Erkeneff said. “That’s, again, another lift for families who have their students or their children home earlier on that Friday.”

According to the KPBSD COVID-19 dashboard, there have been 322 COVID-positive staff and 1,440 COVID-positive students since the district launched the hub. In addition, there have been 521 identified staff close contacts and 5,068 student close contacts.

More information about how KPBSD is responding to the pandemic can be found on the district’s COVID-19 website at covid19.kpbsd.org.

This story has been updated.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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