Anchorage School District will open food distribution sites during school closure

The Anchorage School District Education Center. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage School District will continue to feed students during the extended school break as staff prepare to educate students outside of the classroom. 

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop announced Thursday that schools will remain closed for at least a week after spring break in response to a potential COVID-19 outbreak. Later Thursday, Alaska announced its first positive case of COVID-19.

Related: Anchorage schools to remain closed for one week after spring break amid coronavirus concerns

More than 60% of students in the district qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to Tom Roth, the district’s chief operating officer. And several schools participate in the Community Eligibility Program, where all students at the school receive free breakfast and lunch, he said.  

Over the extended spring break, which will run from at least March 16-20, the district plans to open “food distribution centers” at schools across the district, starting on Monday, Roth said. 

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“It’s the first time we’ve been down this road, at least in my memory,” he said.

Right now, distribution centers will be in place through the extended break. But, Roth said, the district is prepared to sustain the distribution centers if schools remain closed longer.

“We just don’t know at this point, but we have to plan, and we realize that our district absolutely has kids who are in need,” Roth said.

Here’s how the district’s food distribution sites will work:

Students will arrive at a site, and a district employee will greet them at the entrance and will hand them a to-go breakfast and lunch, Roth said. Students will be spaced out by traffic cones or some other signage to prevent them from congregating as they wait for their meals. They will continue through the line, get their meal and go home, Roth said.

Any ASD student will be able to pick up food. The schools that will operate as food centers were chosen, in part, because they are in neighborhoods with the some of the highest needs in the district, Roth said.

Students do need their own transportation to the distribution centers, however. The district is not running school buses right now.

“It goes back to you really kind of being consistent with CDC guidance to avoid situations where you’re congregating large populations of people in a confined space,” Roth said. “School buses, kind of like a classroom, it’s a confined space that would potentially lend itself to progression of COVID-19.”

The food distribution centers will be open next week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

District support staff will work at the centers, including student nutrition employees and some faces students may recognize: their bus drivers. Roth said the district hopes the new role will help support drivers financially. 

“We want to make sure our people are meaningfully employed during this time period,” he said. 

In an email to parents, Anchorage Schools Superintendent Deena Bishop said the district’s primary goal over the next week is to assess the student body and strengthen the district’s ability to meet each student’s needs.

“We estimate thousands of staff and students anticipate returning from outside of the state over the coming days, and we have carefully considered the potential risk and impact an outbreak could have on ASD and our community,” Bishop said in the email.

“By the end of next week, we will have a better understanding of circumstances to make subsequent decisions if the present state of the pandemic expands in our city.”

Roth said he has not been in any district conversations about childcare for students who won’t be in classes next week. But, he said, childcare presents the same dilemma as classrooms and school busses. It’s also problem that many school staff are confronting. 

“Many of our teachers are in the same boat where they have kids,” Roth said, “And yet, the expectation is that they will continue to provide education to students in a remote manner.” 

Roth said the food distribution plan is flexible and adjustments can be made in response to feedback after the first few days of operation. He also said the district is planning to directly contact every ASD family to learn about what specific needs they may have during this time. 

Here’s the list of current food distribution centers: 

Abbott Loop Elementary

Airport Heights Elementary

Central Middle School

Chester Valley Elementary

Creekside Elementary

Fairview Elementary

Government Hill Elementary

Klatt Elementary

Lake Otis Elementary 

Mountain View Elementary 

Muldoon Elementary

Northstar Elementary

Northwood Elementary

Ptarmigan Elementary 

Russian Jack Elementary 

Taku Elementary 

Williwaw Elementary