Juneau School District offers more details on reopening and outlines new instruction option at public forum

School buses line up to pick up students near Juneau-Douglas High School in 2012.
School buses line up to pick up students near Juneau-Douglas High School in 2012. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The start of the school year for students in Juneau is about four weeks away, and families still have a lot of questions about how students will be educated during the pandemic.

Classes in Anchorage and Fairbanks will be fully online when school starts, but Juneau is still planning on a mix of in-person instruction and distance learning.

Superintendent Bridget Weiss shared more details about the Juneau School District’s evolving plan, and took questions in an online public forum Monday night.

The hybrid model she outlined last month remains a major focus of the reopening plan. The mix of in-person time and home learning will depend on how much community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring.

Weiss said the district is prepared to expand HomeBridge to meet demand. That’s the district-supported, traditional home-school option.

And Weiss also outlined a new, middle option developed in response to feedback over the last month. For parents who are uncomfortable physically sending their kids back but don’t want to lose their connection to their neighborhood school, there will be a distance learning option through neighborhood schools.

“This would be more of a teacher-dependent option,” she said. “The school is owning more of the instruction component. We still need support from the parent. We need to make sure if there is going to be a Zoom class, students are showing up for that, etc. But it is truly a distance delivery model coming right from the neighborhood school.”

Many of the questions during the forum were focused on logistics and protocols of restarting face-to-face instruction. Many people asked how the district would decide to shift from one tier of instruction — and health risk — to another.

“We’re an educational organization. We’re not a health organization,” Weiss said. “And what we’re being asked to do, really, in those risk-status levels, is determine a health risk status. That’s not what we do as educators.”

So, she said she’s relying on health authorities and the city to develop the metrics and guidelines. She said the guidance so far encourages using rolling averages of COVID-19 case counts instead of daily counts to avoid constantly shifting instruction styles. And she said community factors like hospital capacity must be considered, too.

“I don’t have absolutes, because there really aren’t absolutes,” she said. “All that I can do is guide our community through this process and prepare us the best way possible.”

Weiss said the metrics and protocols are still in development, but she hopes to be able to share them soon.

The City and Borough of Juneau reported that one of five new resident cases identified Monday was a school district employee. In a statement, the city said that public health officials determined there was no potential exposure to other district employees or the public, and no further risk of transmission.

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