FNSBSD School Board votes to continue discussion to open schools

(Courtesy FNSBSD)
(Courtesy FNSBSD)(Fairbanks North Star Borough School District)
Published: Sep. 2, 2020 at 2:22 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - After over 6 hours of discussion and public testimony, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District School Board voted to continue discussion on the Phase-in Return To School Plan from Tuesday’s board meeting to 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, September 2, 2020. The School Board Regular Meeting for September 1 started at 6:00 p.m. and continued until early morning on Wednesday. Dr. Michelle Nace provided a Medical Advisory Committee update followed by Superintendent Gaborik’s update on the Smart Start 2020 guidelines, now that the district is in the Red Operational Zone. Concerns regarding attendance issues with online learning were discussed, as well as enrollment statistics. With 11,882 students enrolled the overall enrollment has decreased by over 10%, greatly reducing funding that would normally have been allocated to the district. The board then took public testimony on the Smart Start program. Parents, teachers, and caregivers brought up health and safety concerns from little to no screening at schools, to a lack of personal protective equipment for teachers who are in contact with Special Education students. Several parents asked why kids are playing sports, but at the same time kids are not allowed in-person learning. Other parents testified approving of sports continuing while in a Yellow or Green Operational Zone.

When it was time to discuss the Phase-in Return To School Plan, the Board listened to several hours of more testimony. Phase I of the plan, if approved, would start as early as September 8. The plan would provide in school academic support for students identified by the Student Support Services and Special Education Departments. Ideally, the plan would take place in the Yellow or Green Operational Zones. If the Medical Advisory Committee determines specific schools or the entire district needs to move into the Red Operational Zone, services would be stopped and re-evaluated. However, if approved, some students could still access school buildings for services while in the Red Operational Zone.

The majority of people who testified said the Special Education Department, or SPED students were not only experiencing challenges learning at home, but they were regressing. One person, however, stated that the district should not open schools up to the most at risk students. Although the majority of public testimony was in support of having SPED students back in school, the board did not feel they heard enough from transportation, logistics, union, and staff representatives to vote on approving the first step of the Phase-in Plan. Board Member Timothy Doran moved to postpone the vote until all experts had a chance to weigh in during a special meeting Wednesday evening. Board Member Erin Morotti seconded the motion.

Wednesday evening’s meeting will also include the remaining agenda items, including Secondary Schools in Remote learning for First Quarter Approval, and approval of a letter of support for the Child Nutrition Relief Act of 2020 (H.R. 7764) and the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act (H.R. 7887).

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