After the COVID-19 pandemic caused a 10-month hiatus from in-person learning, the Juneau School District is preparing to resume limited in-person classroom instruction next week.
Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss expressed optimism in the district’s opening plans. She noted that the schools hosted small groups of students in the fall and found that their mitigation strategies were successful.
“There are so many variables, but I am very encouraged by the hard work done by so many. I’m incredibly grateful to our community who has kept our health status positive so that we are able to do this for our kids and families,” Weiss said.
The return to in-person learning is voluntary and any student can choose to continue distance learning.
Weiss said expected attendance for next week varies by building and grade level. Overall, she expects between 50 and 70% of students to return to in-person learning.
“By and large, many families are super-excited about the opportunity. We are building our system very cautiously and carefully so we can sustain and grow over time,” she said. “We know there will be some bumps and turns. We have a lot of confidence that the work to this point has prepared us.”
As students begin to return to the classroom, their surroundings and school safety rules will be a bit different from what they remember from the past.
Based on the district’s January SMART START plan shared on its website, all students and staff members will wear masks that cover their noses and mouth. Smaller class sizes and fewer transitions between classes will help to reduce exposure to large groups. Busses will roll with one student per seat.
In addition, daily symptom screening will be in place for all staff and students to prevent anyone exhibiting symptoms from entering the building. Air purifiers and air scrubbers have been deployed to larger spaces and 2,000 plexiglass desk shields have been installed.
Beginning Jan. 12, students may choose to continue distance learning or to attend school in-person on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Class sizes will be limited. If a class is too full, some students will be moved to the common area to join the class via zoom, according to the district. Distance learning will continue via Zoom for all students each Monday. Wednesday will remain an independent study day without instruction. Students are free to choose whether to attend via Zoom or in-person each day that it’s available.
Beginning Jan. 11, students may choose to attend one day in person each week or continue to participate in distance learning, according to the district. Those who choose to attend in person will be assigned an attendance day determined alphabetically. Students will attend a full day in small classes, which can include up to 15 students, depending on size and space. On their non-attendance days, students will continue to attend classes via Zoom.
Students may choose to attend two afternoons a week in small cohorts with limited transitions, according to the district. Students will attend either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Zoom instruction will be available each morning before live classes and Wednesday will remain an independent study day.
Start dates vary by grade, with kindergarten and first-grade students starting Jan. 11, second and third grade students starting Jan. 19, and fourth and fifth graders starting Jan. 25.
Looking to the future
Weiss said plans for in-person learning will continue to evolve based on several factors, including the community health status, staffing, and vaccine availability.
“We will take it week by week,” Weiss said. “The longer our risk level is low in Juneau, combined with the vaccine becoming more available the better off we will be,” she added.
“We will make adjustments as needed,” she said.
• Contact Dana Zigmund at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-308-4891.