Juneau School District readies for summer assignment

Districts will plan for how to safely continue education.

This monumentally atypical school year will soon come to an end, but another school year unlike any other looms.

Alaska Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Michael Johnson said at a Wednesday evening press conference that districts and schools will be working with the state to create plans for how learning will proceed in a 2020-2021 school year.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen also spoke at the press conference.

They said barring the sudden development of a widely available vaccine or antivirals, COVID-19 is going to remain a factor in Alaskan’s lives and shape the education system.

“Without safe and healthy students, teachers, and staff — learning cannot continue,” Jonson said. “Unlike this spring when we needed to suddenly shift the delivery of education, school districts now have the opportunity to spend several months working with partners to build a comprehensive pandemic preparedness plan for the 2020-2021 school year. Together we will ensure schools and staff are prepared to safely and successfully address the conditions, continuity and capacities for learning across our state.”

[UA and Juneau schools brace for the coronavirus]

Johnson unveiled a new framework called Alaska Smart Start that’s meant to help guide schools and account for the conditions, continuity and capacities for learning in low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk communities.

Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss said in a Thursday morning phone interview the information shared during the press conference matched what had been shared with administrators over the past couple of weeks.

Weiss said currently the district is focused on winding down the 2019-2020 school year and celebrating the Class of 2020, but dozens of Juneau educators have been involved in a series of meetings to discuss what August, and a new school year, will look like for local schools.

“We know we need smaller groups,” Weiss said. “We know we need groups that have less mixing.”

How those goals will be achieved is undetermined. Weiss said there have been discussions about alternating which students are in schools depending on the day of the week, but emphasized plans are far from final and not especially detailed at this time.

“None of that has been fleshed out yet,” Weiss said.

She said the district will remain committed to making sure the technology needed to make a blend of learning both at schools and home workable will be available to Juneau families.

Weiss said the district’s plans for the next school year as well as some summer programming expected in July will take shape over the next four to eight weeks.

“What we’re doing is taking all of that thinking alongside our thinking about how we can open schools in a blended learning model,” Weiss said. “That’s our hope that we can have students in schools at least some of the time.”

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt

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