District Officials Say They Are Ready To Reopen Unalaska Schools, Despite Risk Level
For the first time since the beginning of the year, Unalaska students will soon return to their classrooms full-time.
Schools plan to reopen to in-person learning after spring break, regardless of the island's coronavirus risk level, according to Superintendent John Conwell, who spoke at a special school board meeting on Wednesday.
With 90 percent of district employees and many residents who are considered most vulnerable now vaccinated against the coronavirus, Conwell said the district is ready to reopen its doors to students.
"It seems that we're turning the corner on the virus in most parts of the nation," Conwell said. "And it looks like we're in a position to safely open schools, of course, still following our mitigation protocols and keeping an eye on the transmission rate."
While the city dropped to the medium risk threshold earlier this month, Conwell presented three separate plans for keeping classrooms open if the island returns to high risk.
Essentially, the plans each outline methods of learning — from completely home-based to fully in-person — and those shift, based on the number of active cases of community spread on the island.
The school board voted unanimously to move forward with the third of the administration's options. It would keep K-12 students in their classrooms full-time, as long as there are no more than four new cases of community spread reported in the past seven days.
Under the plan, all students would move to the hybrid method of learning or reduced attendance if the community reported five to six community spread cases of the virus. They would move to fully home-based learning if the city reports seven or more cases stemming from community spread.
But the district could move to fully remote learning again with fewer community spread cases under certain circumstances, according to Conwell.
"Ifwe received word from our public health officials that the spread was ramping up, even if it was fewer than seven, we would follow their directive and go to home-based [learning]," he said.
What's important for the school, while remaining open under high risk, is that health officials are able to analyze where someone was likely exposed or acquired the virus and understand how each classroom may be connected to active community spread of the virus, according to Iliuliuk Family and Health Services Clinic Director Melanee Tiura.
The selected plan allows students to stay in full-time in-person learning with a higher number of active community spread cases than any other options presented to the school board. And according to Tiura, that allows the district more freedom when determining whether or not certain students can stay in their classrooms.
"We like that the plan has the flexibility to address a classroom different than, say, the entire school," Tiura said.
During the meeting, several parents and teachers spoke in favor of returning to in-person learning, specifically, under a model that would keep students in school in a more consistent fashion.
The district's spring break begins Monday, and students will return to in-person learning the following week, on March 22.