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5 Mat-Su schools temporarily shut down for in-person learning after multiple COVID-19 cases reported

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Five Mat-Su schools closed to in-person learning this week amid reports of numerous COVID-19 cases.

As of Wednesday, Colony middle and high schools shifted to online learning for the rest of the week, with a reopening decision expected Sunday. Pioneer Peak Elementary is also conducting online learning only this week.

School district officials said Wednesday that COVID-19 cases at two more schools — Wasilla High School and Career Tech High School — prompted them to order early releases at both. It wasn’t immediately clear how long those buildings would be closed to students.

Overall, the district was reporting a total of 76 new cases for the 14-day period ending Tuesday, with 17 of them at Pioneer Peak alone. Thirteen were at Palmer High School, which remained open for in-person learning as of Wednesday afternoon.

Colony Middle School principal Mary Fulp on Tuesday sent out an email saying four cases at that large school near Palmer “have impacted a large majority of our school population.” The school reported four more on Wednesday.

School district officials said the situation was evolving and they couldn’t yet offer specifics.

Fulp in a recorded phone message to families asked all parents to take precautionary measures because families with students who may be considered close contacts hadn’t all been contacted yet. School officials are working with public health officials to reach out.

“We appreciate your patience and just monitor daily for symptoms and stay healthy and let us know how we can support you,” Fulp said in the message.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District was the only large district in the state to open for in-person learning at the start of the school year.

Since then, periodic building closures have occurred at numerous facilities as students or staff test positive. The district shifted to online only for two weeks late last year after surging case numbers left administrators unable to fill teaching positions and the scale of contact tracing overwhelmed public health workers.

Numerous other larger school districts around the state started reopening to in-person learning last month, including the Anchorage School District, the state’s largest.