Juneau parents clamor for details about upcoming school year

The offices of the Juneau School District, pictured here on Aug. 6, 2020, are located at 1208 Glacier Ave., in Juneau.
The Juneau School District offices at 128 Glacier Ave. on Aug. 6, 2020. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Juneau School District officials didn’t have much new concrete information for families preparing for the socially distanced start of the school year.

In a forum yesterday, parent Aurah Landau asked about timelines.

“We are several weeks out from school starting. When are we going to hear from principals and teachers with those details that will tell us what the days will actually look like?” she asked. “Because we have to have that information to be able to plan for our jobs, for child care, for how much alcohol to buy,” she said with a spurt of laughter.

“You know, all those things that we need to get through the school year.”

Landau said she was joking about the alcohol but earnest about coping mechanisms.

Superintendent Bridget Weiss said the school district can’t resolve Juneau’s child care needs, but they are looking to the Juneau Assembly and the community for support. The Assembly is waiting on child care policy recommendations from its Economic Stabilization Task Force.

Middle and high school students will have structured days following a bell schedule. Paula Casperson, principal of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, said high school students’ schedules were mailed out Wednesday.

Various signs at the main entrance to Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé in Juneau announce mandatory mask and symptom-free policies for entrance on Aug. 6, 2020.
Signs at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé in Juneau announce mandatory mask and symptom-free policies for entrance. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Elementary school kids’ days aren’t as firm, yet. But district officials said they learned last spring that imposing some structure to the school day was very important. Weiss said to expect more next week, after regular teachers and staff return to work on Aug. 11 in student-less school buildings.

The marquee at Harborview Elementary School in Juneau, pictured here on Aug. 6, 2020, still has a message about school being abruptly canceled in March, when Gov. Mike Dunleavy ordered schools to close to slow the spread of the coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.
The marquee at Harborview Elementary School in Juneau still has a message about school being abruptly canceled in March, when Gov. Mike Dunleavy ordered schools to close to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Regular school teachers and staff are expected to return to work in their buildings on Aug. 11, but not students when the school year begins on Aug. 24.(Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

During the forum, Weiss emphasized several times that the school district’s reopening decisions could have wider community impacts. She said with about 4,700 students and 700 employees, the district has a huge community footprint.

“That is a very high potential risk of exposure,” Weiss said. “So, if we introduce too much risk too fast, we have the unfortunate opportunity to introduce … higher health cases in Juneau, that then impact our businesses, that then impact our families in different ways, when have to start closing down.”

She said the district has a responsibility to make reopening decisions slowly and in collaboration with other officials.

“But what we know is we are dealing with the lives of our children and of our staff,” she said. “And therefore, our families, all of you. Because, as soon as we bring a child into our setting, that child is going back out into your home. So the standard, the bar for us as we make these decisions? Is very, very high.”

Weiss said the worst-case scenario would be being too ambitious with reopening, triggering a wider outbreak that leads to new shutdowns and further disruptions.

Juneau students’ first day of school via distance learning is Aug. 24. More information about the start of the school year is available on the district’s website including an FAQ.

Jeremy Hsieh

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I dig into questions about the forces and institutions that shape Juneau, big and small, delightful and outrageous. What stirs you up about how Juneau is built and how the city works?

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