Mat-Su schools to close for Thanksgiving week

a student in a classroom
A student in a classroom at Redington Sr. Jr/Sr High School in Wasilla on September 21, 2020. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Mat-Su schools will close over the Thanksgiving week, the borough said in a press conference on Thursday.

Like much of Alaska, the Mat-Su Borough is seeing a surge in the number of local COVID-19 cases, including in its schools. As of Wednesday, there were nearly 200 positive tests for the virus that causes COVID in just two weeks. 

On Thursday, school district Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani announced that the Mat-Su will temporarily switch to at-home learning for all students next week. Trani says the decision is a result of both rising case numbers and staffing difficulties.

“As more and more people are contracting the virus or being identified as close contacts in the Valley, it’s becoming more and more difficult for us to keep schools open.  For instance, over the last two weeks, we’ve averaged about 330 employees per day out sick.”

That many staff members out sick has put a strain on substitutes, which Trani says are in short supply at the best of times.  He says on Thursday sixty positions were unable to be filled by a substitute.

Superintendent Trani hopes the temporary closure will accomplish two things.  First, combining the closure with Thanksgiving break could give time for a bit of a reset when it comes to contact with the virus that causes COVID-19 in schools.

“Anybody who currently is identified as a close contact, including staff — as long as they adhere to the protocols for being in quarantine—they should all be able to return.”

Second, Trani says the move will allow contact tracers to catch up with increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases.  He says the district plans to have school nurses trained to assist public health workers while there are no students on campuses.

As of now, the district plans to resume in-person learning following the Thanksgiving holiday.

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