Education

Snow days pile on complications and uncertainties for Anchorage School District and families

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With another winter storm bearing down on Southcentral Alaska Wednesday, it remained unclear how the Anchorage School District would deal with lost instructional days as students, bus drivers and families braved snow-covered streets and sidewalks coupled with street clearing issues. Late in the day, the district said schools would be closed again on Thursday.

It’s also unclear how the district might implement remote learning during future weather closures, though a school district official said it’s highly unlikely it will be able to switch to remote learning with more school closures this week. The district switched back to pre-pandemic operations and wasn’t prepared to carry out remote learning when the storms hit.

The school district only built two snow days into the calendar this year. The district could add more minutes to each school day, or add more days to the school calendar, which would then need approval by members of the school board.

District officials were unavailable for interviews Wednesday, according to spokeswoman Lisa Miller.

Students gave back Google Chromebook laptops at the end of last year, and remote learning would take additional distribution of materials, MJ Thim, a district spokesman, said earlier this week.

Most Matunuska-Susitna Borough schools had remote learning days on Tuesday and Wednesday, something the district was able to do given an initiative to give every student a Chromebook this school year, according to spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey.

Members of the Anchorage School District administration are talking about and exploring remote learning options, but chief academic officer Sven Gustafson on Tuesday said he was not sure when they would be able to start.

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“If (the next snow incident) is in two days, that’s a pretty big thing in this big of a district to step up,” Gustafson said.

Corey Aist, president of the Anchorage Education Association teacher’s union, said it’s not yet clear how missed days will be made up. He said deciding on exact plans had been delayed because of the additional snow in the forecast.

“It’s a moving target until we know how many days we’re dealing with,” Aist said.

School board member Andy Holleman said the district has never confronted so many snow days so early in the school year. It makes sense to wait and see to decide on make-up days, given that there could be more days off in the future, he said.

Meanwhile, in between snow storms, getting Anchorage students to and from schools this week continued to present challenges.

snow, winter, weather

On Wednesday, the second day students were back in classrooms after an unprecedented four-day closure, one bus that didn’t have students on it was involved in accident after another driver tried to get around the bus and hit it, according to the school district.

Four buses got stuck on the way to school and three were late, according to the district. That follows Tuesday, when about 30 buses got stuck on the way to school in the morning and six more did that afternoon.

On Wednesday, Moria Rogers opted to keep her kids at home. She made the decision after she and her 6-year-old daughter, Gigi, walked to school in near-impossible conditions on Tuesday. They could see the light of North Star Elementary down Fireweed, but had to scramble over snow berms, walk through business lots, and by the time they reached C Street and Fireweed, had to walk in the road.

Snow school walk

”At this point, you know, we’re, we’re over halfway there,” Rogers said. “And we’re looking for traffic and we have our reflective gear on and we’re hopping out into the road and then racing, racing, racing, and then getting back into a private sector plowed driveway again.”

But the treacherous commute didn’t end once the two got to school. Rogers had her daughter ride the bus home, given how dangerous the morning walk was. The bus and her daughter, however, did not show, while Rogers waited for nearly an hour at the stop. She said she started making calls for “almost 20 frantic minutes,” having heard nothing from the district. She considered calling 911, wondering if the bus had been in an accident.

She finally learned that the bus had gotten stuck in the snow, and the district was sending a second bus to take the kids home.

Eventually, her daughter arrived home some 40 minutes later, on the original bus, since the second one had also gotten stuck.

”Something’s broken,” Rogers said, referring to the transportation issues playing out across the district. “This isn’t like ‘oops, sorry, we’re understaffed.’ Something is broken. It’s not ‘oh, a storm blew in.’ No, something is broken.”

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Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow is a general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oregon and spent the summer of 2019 as a reporting intern on the general assignment desk of The Washington Post. Contact her at mkrakow@adn.com.

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