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Schools prep for online learning

K-12 education across Alaska will be delivered directly to a student’s home.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is preparing to migrate education from brick-and-mortar schools to a distance delivery system.

The extended spring break for students ends this weekend and school will be back in session on Monday, March 30. However, students won’t be visiting their classroom or seeing their classmates. Per Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s more recent health mandates, schools will be closed until May 1 and K-12 education across Alaska will be delivered directly to a student’s home.

To shift a district of 8,700 students who attend class in 42 different sites to a “virtual school” in two weeks is “extraordinary,” Pegge Erkeneff, director of communications for the district, said in an email.

She said staff are working around the clock to “rise to this uncharted mission to teach our students.” Over the course of this week, staff is attending professional development and using inservice times to get their classes ready for Monday.

Erkeneff said one of the challenges with the remote migration is finding new ways of delivering content, and determining how many families don’t have access to the internet, a Chrome browser or device. Erkeneff said the district needs to provide devices to students who have an “immediate need.” Based on surveys each family in the district were asked to complete last week, Erkeneff said more than 500 students would “benefit from a Chromebook at home for learning.” The district is working on getting those devices assigned to students who need them, Erkeneff said.

“There are many unprecedented things happening everywhere as parts of our world turn upside down, but what doesn’t change, is our district will strive to provide an education for our kids and families as best we can,” Erkeneff said.

When classes begin Monday, students will be using any number of classroom platforms, including Canvas, Blog, Google, Classroom and Bloomz. Video conferencing will take place on Zoom, Canvas and Google Meet.

Parents will be learning how they play a role in their student’s distance education next week, Erkeneff said. The district will be launching a parent resource webpage later this week.

Teachers are being asked to work remotely to help with social distancing in school buildings, but as long as school buildings are safe and open, staff can work from their classrooms.

Students won’t need to worry about taking any standardized state testing this year. The state received a waiver for all state testing and the state will also be able to waive ACT and SAT requirements for the Alaska Performance Scholarship, a state scholarship given to graduating seniors who fulfill certain requirements and enter college in Alaska. Erkeneff said the district will be working with seniors to make sure they complete coursework required to graduate.

For registered families, “get it and go” meals are available for pick up across the district for the rest of the week and the rest of the year, as long as it is “safe to do so,” Erkeneff said. On Tuesday, the district served more than 1,600 meals.

A person from Sterling tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases on the Kenai Peninsula to four. Over the weekend, two new positive COVID-19 cases were announced on the central peninsula in Sterling and in Soldotna. March 10, a positive case was also announced in Seward.

School sites or meal deliveries could be suspended in some communities if exposure of COVID-19 continues to rise, a Sunday press release from the district said.

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