Alaska public schools closed to students until March 30, governor says

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters Monday (Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

Public schools in Alaska will be closed to students until March 30 in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, state officials announced on Friday.

After-school activities will also be suspended. Plans for residential boarding schools are still being evaluated, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said at a news conference Friday evening, the day after Alaska announced its first positive case of COVID-19.

“What we’re basically doing is expanding spring break,” Dunleavy said. “So during that time there will be no students in the public schools. And there will be teachers and staff doing in-service, and doing work days during that time.”

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

School districts will “dedicate in-service days to fully organizing education plans for remote-delivered schooling should the need arise,” Education Commissioner Michael Johnson said in a memo.

At this time, students are expected to return on March 30, the memo said.

Dunleavy on Friday also announced a health alert advising Alaskans to follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said that means limiting food-sharing, strengthening health screening for food workers, standing apart from each other in lines and increasing ventilation by keeping windows opened when possible.

Related: Alaska’s first known coronavirus patient arrived on a cargo flight and went to an ER in Anchorage, state officials say

The Anchorage School District, along with several other districts, had already announced school closures through next week in response to the coronavirus threat. Dunleavy’s announcement extends that closure longer and across the state.

“Though students won’t be in the schools, what will be happening is staff will be working on continuation of instructional delivery, so it should not be a problem for seniors to graduate,” Johnson said.

Also on Friday, the Alaska Court System announced it was suspending jury trials in Anchorage, Palmer and Kenai next week. Lawmakers voted to close the State Capitol to the public to limit the spread of coronavirus, and the state put new restrictions on visitors to long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

In Anchorage, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz also ordered the closure of all municipal libraries and civic, cultural and recreational facilities through the end of the month.

Meanwhile, three members of the Anchorage Fire Department are at home, monitoring themselves for symptoms, after they responded to Alaska’s only confirmed coronavirus case. The City of Fairbanks announced Friday that one of the employees at its fire department is being tested for COVID-19. 

Related: Anchorage Fire Department responded to coronavirus patient; Three staffers are now self-monitoring at home

Alaska Public Media’s Tegan Hanlon and Liz Ruskin contributed to this report.