Anchorage School District wants universal masking in schools to limit spread of COVID-19

In a letter to Anchorage School District families and students, Superintendent Deena Bishop is recommending that universal masking be required in all schools this fall to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The district’s mitigation plan focuses on allowing for “full participation in activities, clubs, and social learning opportunities,” Bishop said in the letter, sent Saturday night.

Classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 17.

The Anchorage School Board will review the superintendent’s plan during the next school board meeting Tuesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status. The agency cited the risk of spread of the highly contagious delta variant, even among vaccinated people.

In addition to universal masking indoors, Bishop said regular cleaning of buses, offices and classrooms will continue, and upgrades have been made to HVAC systems for optimal air flow. Those who are sick are encouraged to stay home, and vaccine clinics will continue for eligible students.

Read the full letter below.


Dear Students, Families, Employees, and Community Members,

The countdown is on for the start of the 2021-2022 school year! Over the coming days, principals, teachers, and staff will begin the exciting migration back to buildings, where we are planning a strong start for our students to the new school year. You can anticipate a twice-monthly letter as you had last year, sharing the latest learning updates. These updates will arrive in your inbox on or near the first and fifteenth of each month.

With just weeks to go until the first bell, I have received questions from many parents and community members about the upcoming school year, as the COVID risk levels in our community shift. We have learned much about COVID while on this rollercoaster ride of a pandemic; when we know better, we do better. What we know about in-person learning is that with proper mitigation, schools have not been a vector of spread. The District successfully ran its largest summer learning program in years, with more than 9,000 students participating in some form of in-person learning between June and August. During our summer school programs, we had less than 10 confirmed COVID cases and no known spread.

With the confidence we have built in mitigating COVID, we approach the new school year with optimism, while being cognizant of the new Delta variant that is rapidly spreading across the globe and has reached our community. Our goal is to make ASD buildings the safest buildings in Anchorage for our students to flourish and learn in a full-length school day. With this goal and the consideration of community feedback, public health recommendations, and the current community risk level, I would like to share with you the 2021-2022 Return to School Operational Guidelines, Start Strong.

Our mitigation plan this year focuses on how to continue accelerated learning in person, while allowing for full participation in activities, clubs, and social learning opportunities. We know school activities are important to student development. The updated mitigation plan focuses primarily on:

• Universal masking will be required for all individuals while inside any ASD school or building. Some exceptions will apply. Masking while outside is optional.

• Keep ASD Symptom Free. We must all do our part to minimize viral spread. Please stay home and get tested if you are experiencing ANY symptoms.

• Cleaning and Disinfecting. Regular cleaning of classrooms, buses, and offices will continue. Hand sanitizer will be readily available and frequent handwashing will be encouraged. Enhancements and upgrades have been made to building HVAC systems to allow for optimal ventilation and air exchange.

• Keeping students and staff in the learning environment. The District will continue to make COVID-19 vaccine clinics available to eligible students (with parental consent), staff, and community members through a contracted provider. Additionally, following new guidance from the CDC, asymptomatic, properly masked students and fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to quarantine if deemed a close contact.

These past few weeks I have gathered information, heard from parents and staff, and spoken with experts. The science tells us the new variant is highly contagious, is circulating around the globe, and is at a high rate in our community. Given the rapid rise of COVID cases in Anchorage and the new public health recommendations provided last week by the CDC, I will recommend this mitigation plan to the Anchorage School Board. The Board will review and discuss it during its August 3 meeting.

As we look ahead, I would like to thank you for your patience and perseverance. I foresee a strong school start with a spectrum of opportunities for our students. I am confident with proper mitigation and a laser focus on learning we will have an excellent school year. Please know ASD continues to offer options for your family in school, at home, or a combination of both. To find the latest and greatest on flexible solutions within ASD, please visit the District website.

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Related articles:

CDC urges masking in all schools and by vaccinated people in some indoor situations

‘Sicker and younger’: Unvaccinated people are driving a new hospitalization trend in Alaska’s COVID-19 wave

Mask guidance divides parents heading into new school year

Samantha Davenport

Samantha Davenport is a former ADN reporter.