By Alex Koplin
August 10, 2021
Dear Mr. Holland and the Kenai Peninsula School Board,
I am sorry about what you are all going through right now. What a hard way to begin a new year. I remember my years of teaching and all the excitement I felt with a new school year. Things have changed.
I am writing all of you today to ask you to make the wearing of masks part of the dress code for all of our schools in our district until we can get the virus under control.
As the data supports, the pandemic is now reaching new heights and mitigation procedures should be used to the fullest extent. The idea that we wouldn’t use masks right now is irresponsible, as this virus has mutated and is now more potent than before. It is also apparent that this is a fluid situation and since the meeting on August 2, the number of people who have contracted the virus in our state and on the Peninsula put us at level red. More and more businesses and State agencies are making masks mandatory and using strong mitigation procedures as well.
As a retired teacher with KPBSD, I had the great privilege of working with Mr. Holland and many other strong leaders. Mr. Holland was extremely supportive and helpful. I couldn’t ask for a better Special Education director. One of the things that we were told as educators, was that the curriculum we were going to be using with our students had to be scientifically sound. In other words, it had to have evidenced-based research that supported how effective the curriculum was when used with our students. The people in charge of choosing curriculum made sure that the science backed up what they were going to be using with students.
The same principles should be applied when making sure our students are safe. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics has made it clear that wearing masks and other mitigation methods are the best way to keep our students safe. These health mitigation methods include: good air circulation, keep areas sanitized, wash hands, keep your distance and wear masks. If we are consistent with our values at KPBSD, we must adhere to the best science we have at the time.
Unfortunately, last Monday night, Mr. Holland said that the CDC guidelines were just that and not something that had to be followed. Mr. Holland also said that this was not going to be an issue the School Board would vote on and, as superintendent, he would make the decision about masks. I didn’t hear anything else about the other mitigation techniques. It seemed that the masks were the biggest issue for everyone to address. It is unfortunate that the mask issue has become so divisive.
The School Board is Mr. Holland’s boss. Even though he controls the day-to-day operation of the schools, the health and safety of all our students lies with the School Board and not Mr. Holland. They are the ones who sign the check. They are the ones who will get sued when things go wrong. The School Board needs to make the final decision.
I also want to add that this decision to not use masks seemed to me to be made under duress. Reading the Clarion’s article about the meeting and hearing that the police had to be called in on a couple of occasions gives me pause in terms of what the environment was like that night during the Board meeting. During the testimony at the meeting involving the usage of masks, the School Board President had to remind the audience to settle down a couple of times. I know that this issue is very contentious and tempers are hot these days.
I really hope the KPBSD will change their decision and make masks mandatory as well as using other mitigation strategies until this virus is under control. If the standard for choosing curriculum is evidence-based, then I would think the CDC guidelines for making sure that students stay safe and stay in school should be the same. Any other solution to this problem is really not in the best interest of the children we serve.