School starts in the Kenai Peninsula Borough on Monday but students at 17 central peninsula schools will be learning from home. COVID-19 case counts have risen to the point of putting central peninsula schools in red, high-risk status, meaning schools in Kasilof, Sterling, Kenai, Nikiski and Soldotna are shifting to remote learning.
The eastern peninsula is at yellow, or medium-risk status, while the southern peninsula and remote communities are at green, low-risk status. Class will be in session at schools in those regions Monday. The risk statuses are based on the average number of cases over a 14-day range, as well as other factors.
“So we’re looking at what the daily counts are from the state. So we’re taking the scientific data that the state has and they’ve verified and we’re looking at the 14-day trends. We’re looking at seven-day averages. And remember, with COVID, we’re always looking behind us, it’s not really what's happening today,” said Pegge Erkeneff, communications director for KPBSD. “And so we’re looking at all that with our medical advisory team to determine, is the risk really shifting to higher? And then we have to look at if we have a positive case in a school, a student or staff person. And that’s a different thing and could require a different response than if we’re looking at what these 14-day trends are.”
The district has COVID information on alert levels, school status, COVID mitigation, sports, remote learning and much more on its COVID-19 dashboard, available from its website.
“So anyone can find out, any day, where are we at any given time in a school,” Erkeneff said. “And you can click on any of these to find out what school it is. So we might be in low risk and then schools are open, we’re practicing all of our safety protocols. Medium risk, schools are still open. When we shift to high risk, there’s only a few of the student populations that are more vulnerable that will be allowed on campus and everything else will shift to 100 percent remote learning."
Vulnerable students — those in special education prekindergarten, Title I prekindergarten, kindergarten and certain other kids in special education — will still be able to come to school, even in red status.
All schools are now symptom-free zones and extra emphasis and education will be placed on handwashing, physical distancing and good hygiene. Masks are required for staff, visitors and students in third grade and above, and for younger kids when on the bus or in common areas. And students will be grouped by cohort, so if someone comes up sick or is exposed to COVID, not an entire class has to be kept home.
Or parents could choose not to send their kids to school at all this year. The district is offering resources for remote learning and homeschooling for families wanting to avoid classrooms this year.
Erkeneff says decisions on opening or closing schools will be made at the district level, rather than by individual schools.
“So the risk levels are happening based on district leadership. No schools are deciding what their risk level is,” Erkeneff said. “That’s happening with a team of people with science and medical and health input. And it’s based on a metric and a matrix. But if there’s a positive case at a school, it could trigger something to happen for that particular school.”
For any student doing remote learning, by choice or because their school is closed, meals will still be available. Kids at schools in red status can receive a breakfast and lunch for curbside pick-up daily. Fill out a request form and order meals by Friday to have them available the next week.
Information on requesting meals, as well as everything else COVID-related, is on the district’s website, kpbsd.k12.ak.us.