A fire alarm brought Juneau Douglas Highschool: Yadaa.at Kalé staff and faculty outside from a few minutes on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The Juneau School District released a provisional schedule for students to return to classrooms Monday. Most students won't be back at school for in-person learning until after the new year according to the schedule. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Small groups of younger students return to classrooms

Under district’s plan, 1st grade and up won’t be back until January

Even as some younger students are brought back into the classroom, the Juneau School District announced Monday most students wouldn’t be back for in-person learning until after the new year.

Kindergarten classes will start no sooner than Nov. 30, the district said in a news release, and first-graders will return no sooner than Jan. 11, 2021. Dates for in-person learning to resume for second through fifth grades would be announced in December or January, the district said, and middle and high school dates would not be set until next semester.

Small cohorts of six to eight Kinder Ready students began returning to the classroom Monday for two-and-a-half-hour sessions twice a week in the mornings. Different cohorts will be in the classroom on different days, the release said, and kindergarten classes will be run on a similar schedule once they begin.

Some pre-K and other students have been brought back in limited capacity, the district said, and students have been using school facilities for things like test taking and internet access.

“The plan that we put out was very thoughtful, very incremental,” JSD Superintendent Bridget Weiss said Monday in a phone interview. “It’s a very intentional start, starting very small and then building from there.”

There had been positive cases within the school district, Weiss said, noting Juneau’s schools employ roughly 700 people, but there hadn’t been any outbreaks within the school community because of mitigation strategies. Opening in increments allows the district to easily adjust its own health mitigation strategies with those of the community.

[State announces more than 1,100 COVID-19 cases over weekend]

The district is following its own version of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s Smart Start 2020 plan released earlier this year to provide a framework for schools during the coronavirus pandemic. Parts of that plan are tied to the City and Borough of Juneau’s health metrics.

The city’s health alert has been at Level 3 High since Oct. 20, and case counts have been rising both locally and throughout the state. The state reported 462 new cases Monday, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 12,591 — more than half of the state’s cumulative total of 19,187. In Juneau, the city’s Emergency Operations Center reported 16 cases over the weekend and Monday, saying in a release health officials are tracking two distinct clusters of the disease in the community.

Weiss will attend the city’s weekly community update Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 4 p.m. and will answer questions from the community.

President of the Juneau Education Association Kelly Stewart said she was confident the district was working to protect the safety of students and staff. Union representatives worked collaboratively with the district to come up with mitigation strategies, Stewart told the Empire Monday in a phone interview, but membership was still divided on bringing students back into the classroom she said.

The union hasn’t taken a stance on students returning to the classroom, Stewart said, only that when that does happen that it be done thoughtfully and carefully. In the handful of instances students have been brought back, she said, strict health mitigation rules were followed at that appears to have worked.

”We want to continue to support student learning as best we can in the safest way possible,” Stewart said. “We know there are students and programs already bringing kids back and there are strong mitigation plans are in place and they’re working.”

An update for middle and high school students will be shared before winter break the district said in the release. A tentative update on first grade would be made by Dec. 16, and a final decision Jan. 4, the district said. Distance learning would still be available even after in-person learning resumes, the district said, for families who may not be comfortable sending their children into a classroom.

Upcoming update

Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss will join the City and Borough of Juneau Emergency Operations Center weekly update on Nov. 10, at 4 p.m. to answer questions from the public.

People can join the Zoom webinar at https://juneau.zoom.us/j/98563085159, or by calling 1-346-248-7799 or 1-669-900-6833 or 1-253-215-8782, webinar ID 985 6308 5159.

Questions can be emailed to CovidQuestions@juneau.org.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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