The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is considering changing how it evaluates contact tracing in its COVID mitigation plan to allow more kids to stay in school.
The Board of Education held a work session Monday to discuss alternatives. In the board meeting Monday night, superintendent Clayton Holland said the district is trying to keep kids in school as much as possible.
“The big concern that we are getting from people is, when we hear of, particularly a kid being out twice or being out continually,” Holland says. “We hear concern from our principals when we have at-risk kids who are going home, and so we discussed options that the leadership team will be looking at and making decisions to move forward that will allow kids to be in school to a higher extent with contract tracing and still keep our schools safe.”
Ideas include narrowing the parameters of close contacts to be sent home, to avoid entire classes having to be quarantined. And allowing close contacts of someone with a positive COVID test to return to school if they don’t show symptoms and if their school has universal masking.
Soldotna High School Skyview, Middle School and Cooper Landing School moved to universal masking Monday. Public testimony at the school board meeting was mixed.
Rachel Barton, of Anchor Point, is in favor of masking.
“It would be most rational thing to require masks, especially the adults in the school buildings, but also of the children who are physically able to, wear masks in school, Barton said. “Just while these case counts are so high so that we can get these numbers down in the schools as well as in the communities, and so we can also help protect parents and grandparents for these kids that are coming home.”
Winter Marshall-Allen, a special ed teacher at homer high school, says that switching back and forth between requiring masks and not, as happened at her school, is stressful on teachers and staff.
“It would be great if we just had the mitigation, and then we could all just have school and then we can worry about teaching our students,” Marshall-Allen said. “… We need to make sure that everybody is safe and able to continue to do their jobs. So I’m asking that you continue to work on the mitigation plan so that we can all stay safe and we can all continue to do our jobs.”
Susan Guzman has seven grandkids attending KPBSD schools. She said they already started the school year behind. This year, they’ve been out of school for a week to 10 days at a time when they’ve displayed illness symptoms, even if it was just a cold.
“I know our CVOID numbers are high. We all know kids do pretty well, even if they do get COVID. And I just feel like we have just blown this hysteria over COVID so far out of whack,” Guzman said. “It’s here, it’s not going to go away, we just have to learn to deal with it. And shutting the schools down, putting masks on our kids, sending kids home because they sniffed or coughed one time is ridiculous.”
Kayleen Gladden pulled her daughter from Skyview Middle School on Monday because she didn’t want her wearing a mask all day. She doesn’t think masks are effective when not worn properly, like when kids are touching their masks and not washing their hands afterward.
“Because there’s no point in wearing them if you’re not going to wear them and use it correctly. And I don’t believe kids are doing that, and they’re children, I don’t expect them to. I can’t believe we’re having kids go to PE class and wear these and exercise and work out in them. That’s so extremely unhealthy,” Gladden said.
Universal masking is employed on a school-by-school basis. A number of factors go into the decision, including COVID case counts in the community, hospital capacity and staff and student absences. The conversation begins when a school hits a 3 percent COVID positivity rate.
“Three percent is when we start to see staff going out in mass number and students leaving, and when we intervene, we’re able to pretty much stop that and allow kids to stay in school,” Holland said.
Universal masking is put in place for a two-week period, at which point it’s reviewed.
“People were not trusting that we would start with masks and ever remove them again,” Holland said. “And so that was part of our metric is we’re going to keep reviewing it and we’re going to do it by school site and individual site.”
Potential changes to contact tracing haven’t yet gone into effect. The school board on Monday did approve an extra 10 days of paid leave for employees who are out for COVID-related reasons. The extra leave is available for all employees, whether or not they are vaccinated.