Fairbanks School Board debates phase-in options at work session

(Courtesy FNSBSD)
(Courtesy FNSBSD)(Fairbanks North Star Borough School District)
Published: Dec. 9, 2020 at 3:21 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District School Board held a video conference work session Tuesday night to discuss the options of phasing in students to attend schools in the operational red zone.

To determine the best and most equitable course of action the board consulted three doctors, Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen, Dr. Michelle Nace, and Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. The doctors provided their professional input as to weather or not it would be safe for the board to implement a phase-in plan for students.

Dr. Ohlsen provided the insight that staff members and other adults spread COVID at a 3 to 1 rate greater than children. Ohlsen said child to child transmission can occur and does when mitigation plans breakdown, such as when kids don’t properly wear their masks or don’t engage in safe distancing.

When asked if it would violate CDC guidelines for children to return to school in January, the response from the doctors was that this would be dependent on the case count in Fairbanks at that time. According to Ohlsen, currently at 45 new cases per day, Alaska is “off the scale” in terms of weekly cases, 3 times over the CDC’s recommended case count minimum.

According to Dr. Nace, mitigation measures such as safe social distancing are sometimes impractical or even unachievable in schools as they simply weren’t designed around those needs. Nace affirmed that the implementation of any phase in plan will not only impact schools but effect the entire community.

Dr. Zink predicted we are entering a very difficult period of the pandemic, as currently our medical resources are reaching their limits. She suggested online school be attended exclusively for two weeks after periods of regular social gathering such as holidays, while students undergo testing to mitigate spread. Zink informed the board that vaccines will not be available to students in the immediate future, as the majority of testing has not been conducted on children.

After the doctors gave their advice and suggestions, school board members continued to debate whether the phase-in plan on the table was enough. Matthew Sampson, who’s motion in last week’s school board meeting was the catalyst for the work session, said the current phase-in plan options are not good enough. Sampson motioned to have kids attend in-person learning if they wanted to regardless of operational zone or case count. His concern was that the current options are not reasonable for parents and students. Other board members voiced their concerns that if the school district allowed students to come back regardless of case counts, the district would not be following the Smart Start guidelines nor the CDC recommendations. Sampson responded that the district is not legally obligated to follow those guidelines.

After almost four hours of discussion the school board decided to add the option of all students being able to return to in-person learning to the other phase-in options. The board will hold a special session on Monday, December 14 to hear public testimony and vote on the phase-in plan.

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