With COVID cases rising, district focusing on flexibility

Central, eastern and southern peninsula schools are now all at high-risk levels.

This graphic shows the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District risk levels associated with different numbers of new COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough School District)

This graphic shows the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District risk levels associated with different numbers of new COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough School District)

Central peninsula families can expect to know by Wednesday whether or not schools will open for on-site learning next week, but a long-term semester plan is still in the works, Pegge Erkeneff, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District communications director, said.

Currently, 34 of the district’s 40 schools are operating 100% remotely, with decisions to be made this week about whether or not any of them will resume in-person classes for the week of Oct. 26, Erkeneff said.

Though no outbreaks have been reported at any district schools, Erkeneff said the district is trying to avoid “ping-ponging” between having schools open for on-site learning and having them operate remotely, and that trying to plan ahead for holiday breaks at the end of the year would be getting ahead of themselves.

Sporting events and practices remain canceled through at least Oct. 23, with a decision also forthcoming about whether or not those activities will resume in person next week, Erkeneff said. That decision will depend on the different risk levels each region is operating at.

Southern peninsula schools joined 21 other Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools Monday in operating at high-risk level after the state reported new cases in the region, meaning 34 of the district’s 40 schools are currently operating remotely.

Cooper Landing School, Hope School, Nanwalek School, Port Graham School, Susan B. English School and Tebughna School are all at low risk, according to the district’s risk-levels dashboard.

When schools move to 100% remote learning it is for a minimum of one week. Moving remotely allows the district to conduct contact tracing. In instances where the district is able to finish contact tracing on the same day a case is reported, a school may not shift to 100% remote learning.

Erkeneff said that it doesn’t make sense for a districtwide shift to 100% remote learning due to how diverse the schools are, including some that are only accessible by boat or plane. In cases where schools are in small communities that may not appear on the state’s daily case updates, the district relies on those communities self-reporting positive cases and contact tracing. Positive cases can be reported anonymously to the district via telephone at 907-260-2391 or via email at iwertz@kpbsd.k12.ak.us.

When schools are operating 100% remotely, Get-It and Go Meals are free for all students and can be picked up daily at schools from 12-1 p.m. Pre-K, kindergarten and special education intensive needs students are allowed to attend school in person during 100% remote learning.

Risk levels, incidence rates and case numbers by location are updated daily at covid19.kpbsd.org/dashboard.

Central Peninsula

Central peninsula schools moved into high risk on Oct. 13 after the state reported 14 new COVID-19 cases in the region. Classes began remotely on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

The central peninsula is high risk when there are 52 or more cases in the last 14 days, medium risk when there are 51 to 26 cases in the last 14 days, and low risk when there are 25 or fewer cases in the last 14 days.

The state has reported 84 cases in the region over the last 14 days, meaning 32 will need to be dropped from the 14-day average in order for schools to resume in person at medium-risk level.

Erkeneff said a decision will most likely be made on Wednesday about whether or not central peninsula schools will continue operating at high-risk levels next week.

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, Nikiski Middle-High School, Nikiski North Star Elementary, Redoubt Elementary, River City Academy, Skyview Middle School, Soldotna Elementary School, Soldotna High School, Soldotna Montessori Charter School, Sterling Elementary and Tustumena Elementary.

Southern Peninsula

Southern peninsula schools moved into high risk on Monday after the state reported three new COVID-19 cases in the region. Classes began remotely on Tuesday. McNeil Canyon Elementary School began 100% remote learning on Oct. 12 after a positive case of COVID-19 was connected to someone at the school.

The southern peninsula is at high risk when there are 20 or more cases in the last 14 days, medium risk when there are 19 to 10 cases in the last 14 days, and low risk when there are nine cases or fewer in the last 14 days.

The state has reported 25 cases in the region over the last 14 days, meaning five will need to be dropped from the 14-day average in order for schools to resume in person at medium-risk level.

Erkeneff said a decision will most likely be made on Friday about whether or not southern peninsula schools will continue operating at high-risk levels next week.

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

Eastern peninsula

Eastern peninsula schools moved into high risk on Oct. 6 after the state reported new cases in the region. Classes began remotely on Oct. 9.

The eastern peninsula is at high risk when there are eight or more cases in the last 14 days, medium risk when there are four to seven cases in the last 14 days, and low risk when there are three or fewer cases in the last 14 days.

Erkeneff said Tuesday that Seward schools could move into low risk next week if no new cases are reported in the area. If no new cases are reported in Seward in the next five days, eight cases will be dropped from the 14-day count, which would put the schools back in low risk.

The state has reported 11 cases in the region over the last 14 days, meaning three will need to be dropped from the 14-day average in order for schools to resume in person at medium-risk level.

Erkeneff said a decision will most likely be made on Friday about whether or not eastern peninsula schools will continue operating at high-risk levels next week.

Eastern peninsula schools include Moose Pass School, Seward Elementary, Seward High School and Seward Middle School.

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

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