Residents took aim this week at the Ketchikan School District’s draft COVID-19 plan, which would limit how many days students spend in the classroom. The school board got an earful from parents during Wednesday’s meeting.
Every one of the parents who spoke at Ketchikan’s June 10 school board meeting was there to talk about one thing: reopening schools. Ketchikan’s schools closed on March 14 and it remains unclear when or if students will return to classrooms five days a week.
“My biggest concern is for my second-grader,” said parent Christy Willis. “He’s too young to learn from a screen.”
She was one of the two dozen parents, educators and students who testified in person or via email at the meeting. They’re referring to the district’s draft plan discussed at the board’s last meeting in late May.
At that meeting, the board voted to approve starting school a week late to allow for extra staff training.
But it’s the draft plan still under consideration that drew the anger of parents.
Superintendent Beth Lougee told KRBD it’s still a work in progress — but as of the most recent update on June 4, this is what we know:
How schools will reopen will depend on how many new COVID-19 cases spread through the community. The big variable in the plans is the number of students physically in school at a time — from full distance learning in a “high-risk” scenario to kids fully back in school in a “minimal-risk” environment.
As of early June, the district is at a “low risk” level according to state guidance, one tick higher than “minimal.” “Low risk” means no one in the community has been diagnosed with COVID-19 for at least 14 days.
But even in a low-risk scenario, distance learning will play a large role — students would attend school just two days a week. They’d spend the remaining days completing assignments through an online portal.
All students would stay home on Wednesdays and check in with teachers via videoconference.
And that just didn’t fly with many parents here. Taylor Lee said that even the low-risk plan wouldn’t work for her kids if they’re only in school for two days a week.
“I feel that the low-risk plan that is being proposed is not in the best interest of the students or families of Ketchikan,” she said. “Having kids, especially elementary school children going to school only two days a week is pointless. They’re going to have such a hard time retaining information, especially if they’re going on a Monday-Thursday or Tuesday-Friday schedule.”
Some parents, like Nathaniel Currall, said they were especially miffed by the fact that the school board voted to approve a later start date for students next fall. There was no little to no warning as it wasn’t listed as an action item on the meeting’s posted agenda.
“I think if there’s a vote on an item especially an important item like this that completely re does the school year for the next or a school calendar for the next year that needs to be an agenda item that lets the parents and community know that it’s an item up for vote,” he told the board.
The board didn’t take any action on the parents’ concerns. Several board members, including Paul Robbins, Jr. told parents their opinions are being heard.
“I was really grateful for how many parents, how many members of the community showed up today, how passionate their responses were and how involved they want to be in this process — and should be in this process. [It’s] disappointing how they have felt left out in some of the decision making, and I just want to implore Superintendent Lougee and her staff as they go forward to take all this into serious consideration,” Robbins said.
In other business, the board unanimously approved contracts with school maintenance workers and the school’s bus provider.
The Ketchikan School Board meets again June 24.