Education

Anchorage schools superintendent stands firm on mask policy following criticism from mayor

The Anchorage School District superintendent is doubling down on plans to require students and staff to wear masks indoors as classes begin, in response to a statement from Mayor Dave Bronson last week who urged the school district to “immediately reconsider” the plans.

“Having schools open and students learning and engaging with peers is of the highest priority to me,” Superintendent Deena Bishop said in an emailed statement Monday. “According to CDC guidelines, properly masked students will not be required to quarantine if deemed a close contact. My goal is to provide a high quality education to students and in order to do this, the schools need to keep their doors open. Masking helps us accomplish this goal.”

Bronson, who took office July 1, has long opposed COVID-19 restrictions and mask mandates and made criticizing the city’s previous restrictions a central part of his campaign.

In a post on social media Friday, Bronson said that he is against “mandates masking our residents and children.”

“Anchorage residents should be free to make their own decisions about their health care, about their families, and about their children’s education,” Bronson said. “Therefore, I strongly oppose the Anchorage School District’s back to school mask mandate and strongly encourage them to immediately reconsider.”

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After hearing hours of testimony, much of it anti-mask, from parents, students, staff and others, the Anchorage School Board last week supported Bishop’s broader COVID-19 mitigation plan. It includes requiring masks for all people, in most cases, inside district buildings beginning Aug. 9.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance to recommend indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at K-12 schools, including for those who have been vaccinated, due to the highly contagious delta variant.

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In her announcement of the district’s plans, Bishop cited rising COVID-19 cases in Anchorage, the delta variant and the CDC guidance.

Last week Bishop responded similarly to criticism over the mask requirement from an Anchorage Assembly member, saying that her focus is “on getting kids back in school.”

Jamie Allard, who represents Chugiak/Eagle River, said in an interview that she believes requiring children to wear masks in public schools is criminal child abuse and that those who require children to wear masks, without the consent of parents, should face legal consequences.

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