To know: School closure policies

Closing, or delaying school, is never an easy option for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. In the face of either inclement weather or a safety concern, there is a list of protocols set forth to ensure that students stay safe, in the classrooms and on the roads.

As the temperature drops closer to winter, the district is preparing for potential school closures or delays.

“Oftentimes, the social media is the first place people are finding out (about weather closures),” district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said. “If the weather is not looking good, by 5:15 or 5:30 a.m. I would have posted it there. That’s the most accurate place and if something changes or updates, I’ll post it there.”

The district will rarely make decisions about weather closures the night before, unless there is a large storm and administrators are confident that school must be closed.

“The district is so big,” said Assistant Superintendent John O’Brien. “We really have three or four different climate zones within the district. It might be pretty gnarly in Homer, but perfectly fine in Sterling. It’s situational depending on the geography of what we’re dealing with in the district.”

If the weather is bad, but doesn’t warrant a full school closure, the district can utilize a two-hour delay, which will allows the district to assess the weather situation further and allowed road crews additional time for sanding and plowing.

If a two-hour delay is announced, the morning routine is pushed back exactly two hours. Parents and students should add two hours to normal bus pick-up time and to normal school start time. Schools will still be dismissed at their normal time.

“A delay is always a two-hour delay,” Erkeneff said. “It’s never a one-hour or a three-hour delay. We’ll either have a two-hour delay or a closure.”

If school is closed, the district will have to schedule a make-up day to reach the state mandated school term of 17o student contact days, but the district advises parents to use their best judgement.

“If school remains open, and you as a parent do not believe it is safe for your child to travel to school, use your best judgement to determine what is safest for your child. Please notify the school if your child will not attend,” according to the district’s website.

To protect students and staff during a school emergency, the district utilizes the ALICE protocol, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate, which are U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines that steer schools away from the “lockdown” reaction and, instead, stress the importance of students and staff to use more than one option.

“It is important to understand that these protocols are age appropriate, not sequential or chronological, and those involved have the ability to change protocols as an incident progresses,” according to the district’s website.

The protocol highlights the use of plain and specific language instead of code words, lockdown and evacuation techniques, the communication of information, how to counteract a threat, in a last-resort situation, and evacuation guidelines.

The district recommends parents be aware of the emergency terminology and procedure that the district uses for the different scales of emergencies, according to the district’s website. A “stay put” will take place when a potential threat has been identified in the neighborhood. It requires the school doors to be locked, prohibiting entry in and out of the building, but classes will continue as normal.

A “safety closure” happens when a violent intruder is identified on school grounds, or in the building. The ALICE protocol is implemented within the school and no entry into or exit from the building is allowed. Students are not released until the situation has been resolved.

In a recent incident at Sterling Elementary School, an intruder pulled a fire alarm and entered the building which set off the school’s emergency response.

“The school was immediately put in ‘stay put’ mode and we realized that the man had walked into the bathroom right near the front area and had not come out of the bathroom yet,” Erkeneff said shortly after the Oct. 13 arrest of Robert Luton, who was arrested by Alaska State Troopers shortly after coming out of the bathroom.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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