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Few COVID-19 policies in place as new school year begins

KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland.
Sabine Poux
KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland.

School starts tomorrow in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Students are returning to school for the third school year affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, many COVID mitigation protocols that have existed in the past will not be in place, but the district is still encouraging students to be responsible.

KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland said due to the widespread availability of COVID vaccines, advances in treatment options for COVID and a downtrend in severe cases of the illness caused by the current dominant strain, the district is continuing to move away from enforcing masking and some other COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Masking has not been required in KPBSD schools since the summer of 2021, and during the 2021-2022 school year, the district made masking optional earlier than some other nearby districts, like Anchorage and Mat-Su.

This year, Holland said, there will be no contact tracing in schools, and no on-site testing. There are also no requirements for students who have been in contact with COVID.

“We’re really getting away from the enforcement piece of things, but we’re recommending that anyone in contact mask if they’re coming back to school," he said.

In general, Holland said that school staff and principals are ready to move on from being enforcers of COVID-19 protocols.

And he saids this is in line with the plans he’s heard from other superintendents around the state. The plan is also consistent with those announced in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Anchorage, as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Thursday, the CDC lifted the requirement to quarantine if exposed to the virus and removed a school protocol of testing unvaccinated students who had been exposed to the virus to allow them to remain in school. Now, it just recommends returning to school and masking.

However, there are a few policies that will remain in place this year. The district will still require that students and staff who are sick stay home.

“What we are keeping is the symptom-free protocol, so if you’re sick don’t come into school or work, and we’re keeping a focus on good hygiene, as well as that quality air source, so we are still filtrating our air," Holland said.

He said the only place where certain COVID restrictions might be enforced is in the villages of Tyonek, Port Graham and Nanwalek. All three communities require individuals to be tested for COVID before coming in. Holland said those local policies will apply to any school district officials who need to travel to the schools in those villages for things like maintenance work.

“Of course, for anybody who wants to wear a mask, that’s still an option. And as I go around schools I still see people choosing to do that, and that is great," Holland said. "I just encourage people to do what makes them feel comfortable and then also be responsible if they are exposed or have had COVID.”

The borough previously maintained a dashboard on its website that tracked cases of COVID in district schools. Holland said the dashboard has been taken down because such data has become unreliable with the closure of testing sites and the rise of at-home tests.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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