Anchorage School District outlines plans for return to school buildings

A line of elementary children line up and walk down the hallway out to recess in the winter
Kindergarten and 1st grade students at Kasuun Elementary in Anchorage head outside for recess on March 2, 2020. This year students have an extra 10 minutes to play outside as part of the district’s wellness initiative. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

On Wednesday, the Anchorage School District announced a phased plan for reopening school buildings to students over the next few months. 

In a letter to families, the district wrote that in-person classes for elementary students, will resume on October 19, five days a week for 5.5 hours. In-person classes for middle school students in grades 6-7 will resume November 12-13 and on November 16th for other middle school grades, five days a week for 5.5. Hours. And in-person classes for high school students will resume January 4, 2021, five days a week for 5.5 hours. 

The district wrote that it is using the four weeks between elementary and middle school reopening to give the district opportunity to “adjust to elementary school logistics and safety protocols, and will only occur if safety practices and viral conditions permit.”

The district will no longer use the split schedule hybrid model as previously planned, citing new research from Harvard which “suggests that hybrid models may actually increase the viral spread,” it said in the letter. The district also said the hybrid model would be “overly complicated for families.”

The district communicated last week that it had set a target date of returning elementary students and students with special needs to the classroom by October 19, the first day of the second quarter. 

Related: LISTEN: Anchorage schools superintendent talks challenges of educating during a pandemic  

In the meantime, the district is beginning a voluntary reading program for the district’s youngest learners. Students in second grade and below will be able to go into school classrooms in small groups and be tutored by volunteer teachers. The program is set to start September 28.

The district already has several voluntary programs operating in 15 school facilities, including partnerships with child care programs like Camp Fire, the YMCA, and the Boys & Girls Club. 

See also: After 18 months of negotiations, Mat-Su teachers move closer to a strike 

Here is the district’s complete overview for returning students to school buildings. 

Voluntary Reading Tutoring:

  • Will begin September 28 for Grades 1 & 2 students who opt in at selected schools based on equity of access and need

Elementary Schools: 

  • In-person classes will resume on October 19 for Pre-K – Grade 6
  • All students will attend school five days a week for 5.5 hours each day (no alphabet-based cohorts)
  • The school day will begin at 9:30 a.m. for comprehensive elementary schools

Self-Contained Special Education Programs:

  • Programs will resume in school buildings on October 19 for Pre-K – Grade 12

Middle School*:

  • In-person classes will resume for first-year middle school students on November 12-13. (Grade 6 or 7 depending on the school)
  • November 12-13 will provide valuable transition time for first-year students
  • In-person classes resume for all other middle school students on November 16
  • Special and Alternative schools with middle / high school students will resume November 16
  • All students will attend school five days a week for 5.5 hours each day
  • The school day will begin at 8:45 a.m. for comprehensive middle schools

*The four-week gap between Elementary and Middle School re-entry allows time to adjust to elementary school logistics and safety protocols, and will only occur if safety practices and viral conditions permit.

High School:

  • In-person classes will resume January 4, 2021
  • Coincides with the start of the second semester
  • High school will continue with the quarter model
  • All students will attend school five days a week for 5.5 hours each day
  • The school day will begin at 8 a.m. for comprehensive high schools

Special, Alternative, and Charter Schools: 

Since charter and special/alternative schools often have a combination of elementary and secondary grade levels, specific re-entry dates may differ. A detailed list of schools and their re-entry dates will be forthcoming.   

Are you an Anchorage School District teacher or caregiver to a student in ASD? Tell us what you think of this news and how it impacts you. Reach reporter Mayowa Aina at maina@alaskapublic.org with your initial reaction.