School district unveils Smart Start plan

Jul 14, 2020

On Monday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District unveiled its Smart Start plan for opening schools Aug. 24 amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent John O’Brien outlined the plan to the Board of Education during an afternoon work session.

“Really, the hallmark of our KPBSD plan provides parents with choice, consistency, continuity and, of course, we are very firm on symptom-free schools being an aspect of this Smart Start plan if we’re going to be able to keep students in school this year,” O’Brien said.

A committee has been working on the plan since May. Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Clayton Holland, who chairs the committee, says the plan takes into account parental feedback.

“Parents will have the choice to decide if they’re going to be our neighborhood school in person with the kids or be part of our neighborhood school and participate remotely and/or join our Connections homeschool program,” Holland  said. “So we’re offering those choices between there. We’re hoping that that meets the needs of our families.” 

Color codes will be assessed daily based on the latest CDC recommendations for equating a 14-day average of case counts into risk levels, scaled to fit borough populations. A risk level of low — green, medium — yellow, or high — red, will be assigned for schools in the southern, central and eastern regions. Risk levels in isolated communities, like Hope, Tyonek and Port Graham, will be assessed per community. With today’s case numbers, the southern peninsula would be assessed as low risk, central as medium and eastern as high.

Low risk means schools will be open mostly as usual, but with more cleaning and distancing. Medium will mean additional safety measures, such as stepped-up recommendations to wear masks and stopping busing for students within a mile and a half of school. High means schools will be closed and students will go back remote learning.

From here, O’Brien says the as-yet unanswered specifics will be addressed and principals will fit the plan to their schools.

“Bear in mind we have 42 different schools,” he said. “No one plan is going to be a cookie cutter for all of those schools. They’re going to have to customize to meet the unique needs and situations within their schools.”

This version of Smart Start does not require masks to be worn in schools. Students will be taught how and why to wear masks and mask-wearing will be recommended but, for now, not mandated.

When the plan came before the school board Monday night, most people giving public testimony asked that masks be required.

“If they’re not mandatory, people will not wear them and it will most likely spread. And I hope that we can listen to the science,” said Luke Dubber, a Kenai parent. “I know it’s politicized, as everyone has brought up. But, as a parent, I don’t feel comfortable sending my kids in there. I just don’t.” 

Several school board members said they want to see a mask requirement, as well, but recognized the plan is still in flux. The board passed the Smart Start plan unanimously. The plan, including risk levels, CDC guidance and more information, is available on the district's website.