Seward schools go remote, case identified at Redoubt Elementary

Oct 9, 2020

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District website has a public dashboard of COVID-19 data, including information about how community transmission rates are affecting area schools.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

Four eastern Kenai Peninsula schools are reverting to remote learning amid rising coronavirus case rates, including an active case in a Seward school.

Seward Elementary, Middle and High school, as well as Moose Pass School, closed their doors to in-person learning this morning. Students will continue with classes online until community case rates on the eastern peninsula stabilize.

There was also an active case reported at Redoubt Elementary in Soldotna yesterday. Because central peninsula schools are still considered “medium risk” and the case was quickly contained, that school will remain open.

Pegge Erkeneff, director of communications for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, said Seward schools were on the verge of going remote even before there was an active case there.

“Wednesday, we had already sent a communication out to all of our families at those schools and said, ‘Case counts are up and high risk, there’s nothing associated with the school but if they keep rising, we do intend to move to 100 percent remote learning for Monday,” she said “So then yesterday when it was late in the day and we learned about a positive case attached to a school, and weren’t able to do contact tracing or get enough information, and there’s already a high level of concern in Seward, we shifted immediately to 100 percent remote learning.”

Erkeneff said the district will eventually release which of the Seward schools has the case but the information is not yet public. The district did not specify whether the case was a staff member or student.

The district has a matrix of severity that it is using to make decisions about closures. A community is considered “high risk” when there are more than 10 cases per 100,000 people.

The eastern peninsula, which has a population of over 5,000, currently has nine active cases. Here on the central peninsula, there are 33 cases per approximately 37,000 people, putting it on the low end of “medium risk.”

Case counts on the eastern peninsula have been rising for a while now. Erkeneff said staff and students were prepared for a closure. 

“Principals and then teachers have been telling students, ‘When you leave, make sure you take things home just in case we switch,’” she said. “And the teachers have been anticipating, because everyone is watching the case counts rise, that this might happen.”

Seward Elementary already shifted to remote learning once, in September, because the district had to do contact tracing on a case they learned about late at night. Around the same time, the district learned about a case at Soldotna High School on the central peninsula, but that case was reported early enough in the day that it could be traced and close contacts quarantined before school the next day.

Eastern peninsula schools will stay remote for at least a week, so as to not give teachers and families the whiplash of switching back and forth.

“If case counts stay high in Seward and we know that there’s community spread, then we’ll be in 100 percent remote learning potentially for a couple weeks, however long it takes,” Erkeneff said. “But at this point what we’ve said is we’ll be in 100 percent remote learning for sure for next week, so that parents and teachers can all plan.”

Two Homer High football coaches also tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week, sending that school’s football team into quarantine and bringing the district’s overall case count to seven positive staff cases and four positive student cases. The southern peninsula is still considered a “low risk” region, with two cases per 14,000 people.