Ketchikan’s schools may require masks next year if the vaccination rate among teenagers doesn’t improve. That was the message delivered by interim Superintendent Melissa Johnson to Ketchikan’s school board on Wednesday.
“One of the statistics that was kind of alarming was that 24% of 12 to 19 year olds are fully vaccinated — for some reason, we thought that number would be a lot bigger. And so it’s hard to do non-masking mandates because there’s not a lot of kids vaccinated,” Johnson said. “So we’re going to try to push that up a little bit.”
A 13-member committee of teachers, administrators and parents is currently working on plans for next school year, she said. Whether a mask mandate would be extended for school pupils and staff is something that would be decided by the board.
In a statement, Johnson added that the committee is considering input from local health professionals and the state health department as it crafts its recommendations for next school year.
Johnson said that if more children were vaccinated before the start of the school year, the district would be more comfortable dropping its mask requirement. The CDC dropped its mask recommendation for fully vaccinated people earlier this year. People who have not been vaccinated are still recommended to mask up in public spaces.
But Johnson said the district’s Smart Start 2021 committee recently decided it’ll be all or nothing when it comes to masks in the district’s schools — either everyone wears one, or no one does.
“It gets a little complicated if some kids are masking, some kids aren’t, and then it kind of separates kids. So that’s one decision that we’ve made today,” she said.
The Pfizer vaccine is the only COVID-19 shot currently authorized for children as young as 12.
Johnson emphasized that discussions about what next school year will look like are still in their early stages, and that the school board has final authority over the district’s anti-COVID-19 policies.
In other district business, the school board says it’s ready to begin reviewing applications for a permanent superintendent. The board will hold a six-hour session at noon on July 1 in the Ketchikan High School library to begin that process.
Johnson is serving the district’s interim head while the search for a permanent replacement for Beth Lougee is underway. The district hasn’t said how many applications it’s received and is reviewing.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board approved a new contract with the union representing district administrators. The new deal provides no raises for principals and other administrators next school year. But there will be a 1.5% salary bump for the following year: 2022-2023.