Classrooms will look different when Ketchikan’s students return to school this fall. Face masks will be mandatory. School staff will check for fevers. And some students could move from their regular school building to a classroom away from campus. That’s after Ketchikan’s school board voted to adopt pandemic safety measures after hearing from teachers and staff worried about their health as they return to classrooms.
Ketchikan’s school board got another earful from the public at its last meeting — this time, largely from teachers and staff members worried about their health as Ketchikan heads toward fully reopening schools.
At the end of July, the school board voted to reject the superintendent’s recommendation to start the year with a hybrid of in-person and distance learning. That means, a traditional five-day school week with butts in seats. The superintendent’s hybrid pandemic preparedness plan would remain on the shelf as a contingency in the event of a wider coronavirus outbreak.
A dozen or so teachers gathered outside before the meeting started. Teachers’ union leader Gara Cesefske was one of them.
“These teachers have gathered to show that they support the safety measures that our superintendent is going to propose tonight, and we’re really hanging tough together to try and promote social distancing,” Cesefske said.
And that they did — more than two dozen people spoke for a total of more than two hours. Many asked the board to restore safety measures outlined in the plan the board set aside at its last meeting.
Several teachers pointed to one key safety measure in particular: extra space to spread students out. School administrators floated leasing off-site spaces, like churches, for extra classroom space. That, they say, would allow students to spread out and reduce their risk of spreading the coronavirus. Carol Stanton, a teacher entering her 25th year, put it this way to the board.
“Our classrooms are too small and classes too large to have physical distancing without additional school spaces,” Stanton said.
School board member Paul Robbins, Jr. said it was always the intention to revisit safety measures.
He said he supported leasing extra sites — as long as students were in front of certified teachers. Earlier versions of the pandemic plan would have split the class: half in front of a teacher, half in front of an aide. But the district scrapped that plan after fierce criticism from parents, said Superintendent Beth Lougee.
In the new concept, Lougee says entire grade levels — teachers and all — could move off-site. She says that would make sure students learned from a certified teacher every day.
Lougee said starting with students spread between schools and other buildings would make it easier to switch to smaller class sizes if the pandemic worsens in Ketchikan.
“Because we’re ready, and then we can adjust to what is now our contingency plan, and we’re not losing approximately four weeks of school,” she said.
She said the extra space would also mean less mixing between groups, which would limit the potential spread of the coronavirus.
Board member Leslie Becker asked when it would be appropriate to get back to the old normal.
“At what point are we going to quit requiring masks?” Becker asked Lougee. “We hear mixed push back from the community. I would be on the preferential — more freedom and no masking. I’m just asking the question, I’m not trying to make this a political issue.
The superintendent replied that it’s not yet clear when the district would stop requiring masks — she emphasized that even after the board’s vote, the district’s pandemic mitigation plan remains a work in progress.
Nearly four hours after the meeting began, after hearing from all sides, the body voted unanimously to adopt a list of requirements to keep kids safe as they head back for full-time instruction. It includes: mandatory masks for staff and students, temperature checks for everyone entering buildings and extra classroom space for students to spread out.
District officials split their recommendations between three categories, all of which the board unanimously approved. Download each set of recommendations here: Continuity of Learning, Capacities for Learning and Conditions for Learning.