Douglas students return to school, but some families are opting out

Ryker Lenkiewicz, 5, follows Sayéik Gastineau Community School kindergarten teacher Diana Brann on his first day of school on Thursday in Douglas. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Jamie Framke and her son Max walk through the front doors of Sayéik Gastineau Community School in Douglas. They pose for a photo in front of a banner of a formline drawing of an eagle, the school’s mascot.

It’s Max’s first day of kindergarten. He is part of a group of 18 students whose families chose to have their kids return to in-person classes on Thursday.

While those families are relieved to return to something that resembles normalcy, others decided to keep their kids at home. Framke says she understands the risks of sending Max to school.

“As his mom, it’s my choice if he can be exposed or not to anything,” Framke said. “We’re really big on handwashing and sanitizer, and I’ve taught them about all of that.”

Framke works in health care. She says it’s a relief to return something that resembles normal life.

Sayéik’s principal Stacy Diouf says this week is the beginning of the end of a challenging time for students and their families.

“We are looking forward to being able to connect with students who are back in person to assess them to sort of see what skills they’ve gained during their time away from us, or time via distance, and what gaps we can begin to fill academically,” Diouf said.

Gregory Francis looks across the cafeteria at Sayéik Gastineau Community School during his first day of in-person classes on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
Gregory Francis looks across the cafeteria at Sayéik Gastineau Community School during his first day of in-person classes on Thursday,  in Douglas. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Devon Francis is another parent who chose to have his son Gregory start school in person. He says face-to-face time is important for his child’s learning development.

“Sometimes, even with a distance learning, they don’t understand clearly what sometimes the teachers are trying to say to them,” said Francis. “They can participate more. Teachers can see them, how they operate, and all of that sort of stuff. And their weaknesses can be easily realized and built upon.”

Some parents aren’t ready to send their kids back to school yet.

Sanjay Pyare has a fifth-grader and a third-grader who would normally be attending classes at Sayéik.

“They gave us the option,” Pyare said. “We said ‘why, why?’ Why are we going to roll the dice when, you know, there’s some upside as arduous as it is for everybody, like hanging out with their kids and keeping them home and everything?”

Avery Barnaby holds her "wings" out while standing in line as siblings Amara and Tanner Cooper play behind her on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. Students are taught that when their wings are out, the tips shouldn't touch and they'll be far enough apart for social distancing at Sayéik Gastineau Community School. The school resumed in person learning after holding on remote classes for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
Avery Barnaby holds her “wings” out while standing in line as siblings Amara and Tanner Cooper play behind her on Thursday in Douglas. Students are taught that when their wings are out, the tips shouldn’t touch and they’ll be far enough apart for social distancing at Sayéik Gastineau Community School. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Pyare says he understands the reasons the other families chose to go with face-to-face classes, especially for kids’ emotional health. But his kids seem to be doing OK so far.

“They’re resilient. Like, they’re just brought up,” he said. “Maybe it’s the technology, maybe it’s, this is what they have, and they’re rolling with it.”

The Juneau School District reports about 1,200 — or one-third — of students have returned to face-to-face classes this week. The other two-thirds are still doing distance learning.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the child in the first photo, his name is Ryker Lenkiewicz. 

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