PALMER — Mat-Su Borough School District Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Luke Fulp updated the Mat-Su Borough School District School Board on the preparation for students with mitigation plans for preventing the spread of COVID-19 during the board’s latest meeting. Dr. Monica Goyette had her last day as superintendent of MSBSD, and Fulp spoke about the transition to Dr. Randy Trani, the district’s next superintendent.
“Dr. Trani is working with us and is engaged with us daily. The two of them have worked very well together to make sure that we’ve had a smooth transition and we’re not missing a beat, so I appreciate that effort from both of them,” said Fulp.
Fulp detailed the actions of a weekly working group that has been meeting to discuss how school reopening would look in the fall with adequate measures for maintaining social distance. When online registration opens on June 29, parents can opt-in to an at-home learning model. With low community transmission of the coronavirus in August, schools could return to hosting students for instruction. Fulp said that the working group is preparing for three different scenarios and how to be able to react quickly to outbreaks.
“Our goal is to make sure we have a mitigation plan in place and all the planning and preparation that needs to go into reopening schools safely is done before we enter into phase 2 on Monday, June 29,” said Fulp. “We will have practices in place to make sure that our students and our staff are being safe at all times and practicing some of those good preventative measures as it relates to COVID-19.”
Fulp noted June 29 as the starting date for phase two in the timeline as the date that in-person services will begin for over 500 students taking credit recovery courses in summer school. Students will be receiving in-person instruction until July 24 with mitigation plans in place to maintain student and staff safety. Fulp updated the board on the possibility of fall sports that will be determined by the Alaska School Activities Association.
“We anticipate some update from them on July 1 which will inform our fall activities and we will be making decisions around the update that we receive from ASAA. Similarly we are delaying a decision on interstate travel until July 15 until we know more about the spread of the coronavirus and can make a more informed decision,” said Fulp.
Fulp said that the working group will use the month of July to finalize mitigation plans and solicit input from the community. The group has already discussed what must be ordered in the summer months and used the guidance from Alaska Smart Start and the Centers for Disease Control to provide a framework.
“We’re really discussing all the intricacies of our work, planning around three diff models of delivering instruction and those support services that go along with the instructional services that we provide. Our mitigation plans are going to be school based plans designed to support learning at all levels of risk,” said Fulp.
Fulp also noted that the Alaska Department of Education Commissioner Michael Johnson had provided further guidance on the definition of community after large school districts were concerned they would never be able to open to in-person instruction.
“The Department of Education and Early Development is considering each school to be its own community for determining levels of risk, so it’s very flexible. It allows us to look at a school community in and of itself. We may have to expand that definition at times based on an outbreak that might happen in a specific area of our borough, but that will be informed by the public health officials, the Department of Health and Social Services. For the most part we are utilizing the definition that is most flexible, least restrictive and allows us to define each community as a single school community,” said Fulp.
Based on the level of community spread of COVID-19 in the fall, MSBSD may have to switch to a blended delivery model of education. Students would be on campus for one week at a time and receiving distance delivered education every other week. Fulp noted that extended school closures would possibly be necessary for cleaning and contact tracing in the event that someone at the school building tested positive for COVID-19. While some elements of the district mitigation plan for reopening schools must be consistent across the entire district, Fulp said that the definition of community provided by the Department of Education allows for school administrators at each school building to make their own decisions.
Fulp also explained the proposed schedule change that the school board passed unanimously. Students will now have the first day of school on Aug. 19 and teachers will arrive on Aug. 12.
“This is something that many districts around the state are trying to do is to try to build in more planning time on the front end of the semester. It’s something that commissioner Johnson has encouraged all 53 school districts to look at in an attempt to limit disruption throughout the semester,” said Fulp