Thunder Mountain High School on April 18, 2021. When school resumes Monday, students will attend each weekday, and COVID mitigations will be in place. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Hello, school: Juneau’s students make full-time return to classroom

What a difference a year makes.

On Monday, students in the City and Borough of Juneau will grab backpacks and head off to school for the first day of a school year that will include five full days of in-person learning each week. This schedule stands in stark contrast to the first day of the 2020-2021 school year, which took place via distance learning due to COVID-19 concerns.

“We are excited,” said Bridget Weiss, superintendent, during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

School board OKs mask plan for fall

Kristin Bartlett, chief of staff for the district, echoed the sentiment in a call with the Empire early Wednesday morning.

“It feels very good. It’s exciting that we will not be starting another school year without students,” she said.

Last school year, students started a partial-return to in-person learning in January and gradually geared up to four in-person days each week. Wednesday’s were set aside for independent study. Staff continued to offer distance learning opportunities for students who were not comfortable returning to in-person school.

Back to cool

Bartlett said that elementary school students can find teacher assignments outside the door of their school buildings on Friday. Middle school students should expect to hear from the school this week and high school students completed orientation and picked up schedules last week. Bus schedules will be available at juneauschools.org by Friday.

When considering the year, Bartlett said that students and parents can look forward to a more typical school experience with activities and open houses on tap for the fall. Activity busses will be available to help middle school students participate more fully in after-school offerings. Parent volunteers will be able to return to the classroom.

School supply lists and open house dates are available at juneauschools.org.

The deal with meals

Unlike most years, free breakfast and lunch will be available to all students at every school. Bartlett said parents can find menus online and that no paperwork is required for students to enjoy the meals.

“Everyone who comes to school and wants a meal gets one. Over the first few weeks, we will balance out supply and demand,” she said. “No pre-ordering is needed.”

However, district officials still encourage all qualifying families to apply for the USDA Free and Reduced Meal Program.

“It does help if families who do qualify go through the application process as that information is how lots of other funding is provided to the school district,” Bartlett said.

Applications can be picked up and submitted to any school office. An online application can be submitted at schoolcafe.com.

A mural is born

COVID Mitigation

When students return to school, they will be wearing masks when inside. Based on a Tuesday night vote by the school board, students will have the option to remove their masks when outside.

“Last year the strategies proved effective at preventing COVID inside the school,” Bartlett said. “We know those strategies are effective.”

In the event of a positive COVID-19 case in a classroom, public health officials will guide school district staff on the best way to proceed. Teachers, staff, and vaccinated students identified as a close contact will not be required to stay home and quarantine.

“I think we will have fewer quarantines this year,” Bartlett said.

Weekly surveillance testing will be required for student activities and is voluntary for other students and staff. Vaccinated students are exempt from surveillance testing.

“The more people who are vaccinated the better the environment,” she said.

Know & Go

— The first day of school for students in grades 1-12 is Monday, August 16. Kindergarten starts on Thursday, August 19, and Preschools begin Tuesday, August 24.

— New student registration is happening now at every school. Registration packets can be found online. If you have a child who will be five years old by September 1 and have not yet registered for Kindergarten, visit your neighborhood school to sign up.

— Immunizations and vaccinations are available at Juneau Public Health Center, 907-465-3353. The COVID-19 vaccine is not required for students to attend school in person, but is encouraged for students ages 12 and up.

— Find out where to get a vaccine at juneau.org/vaccine.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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