Rising coronavirus cases temporarily shut down Kenai Peninsula, Mat-Su schools

A school beneath a snow-covered mountain
Colony High School (Image from Mat-Su Borough School District)

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District closed or extended closures of 19 schools on Monday as coronavirus cases surge statewide.

Thirteen schools in the southern Kenai Peninsula will close Tuesday and remain closed for at least a week, the district said.

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Pre-K, kindergarten and high-needs special education students can still attend school in-person during the closures, but all other students must shift to online learning, according to the district’s announcement. Within the last week, the district has temporarily shut down in-person learning at dozens of other schools.

“We know that Alaska is experiencing an accelerated phase of COVID-19 spread,” the district said. “Several positive cases are reported each week that are connected with KPBSD schools, and contact tracing takes place for every positive staff or student COVID-19 case, to help further exposure from occurring.”

In Mat-Su, students were dismissed early on Monday at Big Lake Elementary, Fronteras Spanish Immersion Charter, and Houston Jr/Sr High Schools after coronavirus cases were reported, according to the district. The school buildings will remain closed at least through Tuesday.

The district also said on Monday that it has extended the closures at Career & Tech High School, Colony High School and Wasilla High School through at least this Friday, Oct. 23. 

The district has recently announced coronavirus cases tied to about a dozen other schools.

The classroom closures come as coronavirus cases continue to rise around the state, including in the Mat-Su area, which avoided high numbers of cases in the previous months.

On Friday, the borough reported 23 new cases among its residents — a record daily high for the area.

Both the Mat-Su and Kenai regions are among the areas in Alaska under the state’s “red alert” level based on their rates of coronavirus cases. That gets reflected in schools, the districts say.

“As cases are rapidly rising in the Mat-Su Borough, the schools in the Mat-Su are seeing an increase in short-term school building closures,” said a written statement from Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink.

“Let’s all work together to keep our kids in school, and step up our collective prevention efforts.”

Zink said that includes wearing face masks and following social distancing protocols.

On Sunday, the Mat-Su school district postponed indoor sports events until at least the end of October, reported the Anchorage Daily News.