With ‘laser focus,’ Anchorage School District commits to in-person study beginning Jan. 19

Kindergarten teacher Katie McDaniel’s classroom at Huffman Elementary School on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)

After more than eight months away from school buildings, the Anchorage School District is determined to bring kids back to classrooms in mid-January.

“ASD will begin the semester with a laser focus on getting students back into classrooms,” ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop wrote in an email to families on Tuesday. “The ASD leadership and I look forward to beginning the process soon after we return from the holiday break.”

The in-person schooling plan takes a phased approach and prioritizes the district’s youngest learners. 

All pre-K through second-grade students, pre-K through sixth-grade self-contained special-needs students, and the Whaley School will start full-time (5.5 hours per day, every day) in-person learning beginning Jan. 19. The district will monitor how in-person learning goes and phase in students grade 3-6 when it is safe to do so, the email said. 

All middle and high school students will continue with online learning through the third quarter. But some selected students who need additional academic support will be able to do small group, in-person classes full-time starting Jan. 19. 

The district will continue to run ASD Virtual for families who do not wish to return to in-person learning.

This plan is a slight departure from the district’s previously proposed in-person plan which started with in-person learning for small groups at all grades levels and split the school day into online and in-person learning blocks for elementary students. 

See the outlined plan including transportation and daily schedules here and view the entire email to families below:

Dear ASD Families,

Once again, we find ourselves closing another year and winding down another semester of school. No one could have predicted just how different this last semester would be. School this fall has been a tremendous endeavor for parents and students. While it has been far from ideal, I am impressed by the level of resiliency and dedication I’ve seen by students and families. 

Looking to the next calendar year, ASD will begin the semester with a laser focus on getting students back into classrooms. My commitment to beginning a phased-in approach to restarting in-person learning has not waivered. The ASD leadership and I look forward to beginning the process soon after we return from the holiday break. 

An outline of the plan can be viewed on our website or on the attached flier, but here are the main points families need to know:

Elementary School

  • On January 19, Pre-K–2, K–6 self-contained special needs programs, and the Whaley School will begin in-person school for 5.5 hours each day. 
  • Grades 3-6 will continue with their current distance learning schedule.
  • ASD’s goal is to bring grades 3-6 back as soon as possible after Pre-K–2. The District will monitor COVID-19 transmission, mitigation strategies, and staffing levels to determine when they can safely return. 

Middle and High School

  • Beginning January 19, selected students in need of extra support will begin in-person, small-group classes for 5.5 hours each day.
  • All other students will continue with online and Zoom classes through the third quarter.
  • Parents and students will be notified before the holiday break of details about their individual class schedules.
  • On March 15, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, middle and high school students will return to in-person school.
  • Beginning at the fourth quarter allows schools to effectively build schedules to coincide with criteria for earning credit toward graduation.

As I have mentioned previously, this plan prioritizes our youngest students who struggle the most with online learning. However, this plan also provides in-person, small-group classes to middle and high school students who most need support. The plan allows the District and community to build confidence in the mitigation protocols and provides time to make adjustments during the phase-in. For those families who choose, ASD Virtual will remain an option for all grade levels. 

Again, this is just an overview of our phased-in return to school plan. Parents and students can expect to hear from their school with details about their specific programs, either before the holiday break or after the new year. I encourage families to reach out to their schools if they have any questions.   

I would like to close by wishing everyone a joyous holiday season. I hope that even during the pandemic, families embrace their holiday traditions in meaningful ways, although they may be different than ever before. Please take time over the break to recharge and reflect on what matters most in your lives. I am extremely optimistic for what 2021 will bring – for our students and families as well as our entire community. Happy Holidays! 

Sincerely,

Deena M. Bishop Ed.D.

Superintendent

Reach reporter Mayowa Aina at maina@alaskapublic.org

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