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Anchorage School District to continue online-only instruction until winter break

An empty classroom at Northwood Elementary School in Anchorage on Aug. 25, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

The Anchorage School District will not resume in-person classes until winter break due to the spread of COVID-19 in the city, the superintendent announced Wednesday in an email to families and staff.

Superintendent Deena Bishop in the email also said that strained staffing in hospitals and challenges staffing schools played into the decision. District schools will stay in online instruction mode through Dec. 17, when winter break begins.

The superintendent’s email came hours before Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announced a “modified hunker down” for December due to the widespread COVID-19 cases in the city.

Bishop had planned to phase some elementary students back into classrooms starting Nov. 16, but she postponed the plan this month without setting a new school start date.

It was the third postponement of in-person classes this school year. Bishop’s most recent plan coincided with the largest surge in coronavirus cases the state has seen during the pandemic.

“The District continues its planning for a gradual, phased-in approach to starting in-person learning, as our sights are set on getting kids back into school buildings just as soon as community conditions allow,” Bishop said in the email Wednesday.

The district will also continue to hold small in-person tutoring sessions, she said, and after Thanksgiving break more than 50 schools will offer the sessions for students who need it most.

Bishop had previously said the likelihood of getting any students back for in-person classes before the holidays would be slim due to the escalating pandemic and the increasing strain on hospitals in Anchorage, which make up much of the state’s health care system.

She has also said the district will open classes for its youngest students and special education students as soon as it gets the “green light” from health officials.

Bishop’s full email is below:

Given the continued community spread of COVID-19, the strain on hospital staffing, and challenges with predictably staffing our buildings, ASD will continue online instruction through December 17.

The District continues its planning for a gradual, phased-in approach to starting in-person learning, as our sights are set on getting kids back into school buildings just as soon as community conditions allow. I will continue the twice-monthly updates to keep you informed of the planning progress.

We will, however, continue with our small-group, in-school tutoring sessions that have seen great success this semester. Schools across the District have significantly expanded these offerings, and after the Thanksgiving break, more than 50 elementary and secondary schools will either begin or continue in-person programs to provide additional support for small groups of students who need it most. I encourage families to reach out to their teacher or principal to learn what offerings may be available at their school.

As we continue with what has been a very unpredictable school year, it is my wish that families can celebrate Thanksgiving in a meaningful way according to their own traditions. In the upcoming days, I encourage you to reflect on what matters most for you and your family. Gatherings will likely be smaller this year, but I hope the experiences will be no less enjoyable.

I want to close by sharing some insightful, if not timely, words from Oprah Winfrey, who I have always admired for her lifelong commitment to improving people’s lives. Her words seem especially relevant this Thanksgiving -- “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Although we cannot be together in our schools right now, as your superintendent, I am thankful for ASD’s students, families, and educators.

Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,

Deena M. Bishop, Ed.D.

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