Anchorage School District superintendent expects to postpone start of in-person classes

a woman standing in front of a building
Anchorage School District Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop stands outside an ASD office on September 15, 2020. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage Schools Superintendent Deena Bishop said she’ll likely push back the return to in-person schooling because of a surge of COVID-19 infections in the city.

Bishop gave the update during a virtual town hall on Tuesday

“I look to announce a pushback, a postponement of our transition at first quarter to second quarter,” she said. “I don’t have a date out in the future yet.” 

Second quarter starts Oct. 19. That’s also the date the school district had expected to start bringing thousands of elementary school students back into classrooms, according to a tentative plan announced about two weeks ago.

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But, Bishop said, the COVID-19 situation in Anchorage is different now.

Anchorage has recorded an average of 64 new COVID-19 infections daily over the past seven days, according to district data. That’s up 42% from the prior seven days.

“We are definitely in the highest categories,” Bishop said. “I don’t think any of our medical experts would say, ‘I think we should go back to school,’ where that was very different last week and three weeks ago.”

Bishop did not provide additional details Tuesday about when students might return to classrooms. The current school year started Aug. 20 with all classes online.

Bishop said she’ll provide the community with an update on in-person schooling on Thursday. The district will now provide regular updates on the status of schools on the first and 15th of every month, she said.

The two-hour town hall on Tuesday covered a wide range of topics from face masks to ventilation to what happens if students are sick once classrooms reopen. 

Jennifer Patronas, the school district’s director of health services, said if students are sent home sick with COVID-like symptoms they’d have to stay home for 10 days or get a negative COVID-19 test or get a doctor’s note before returning. In all cases, they’d also have to be fever free for 24 hours and have “resolving symptoms” before coming back to school.

The district has a second town hall planned for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.