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How LKSD Plans To Begin In-Person School Full-Time With Sports Next Week

High School seniors Kayden King, Shaun Peter, and Thomas Phelan on their first day back in school after a year of closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. March 11, 2021 in Bethel, Alaska.
Katie Basile

School will soon be back in session, and the plan is to hold full-time, in-person schooling with sports in the Lower Kuskokwim School District. Classes begin next week, on Aug. 11 and 12. 

Coronavirus cases are surging due to the more contagious and dangerous delta variant of COVID-19. However, LKSD Superintendent Kimberly Hankins said that the surge will not affect the district’s plans for starting this school year in person.

“The increase in cases in our region, and really throughout the state and the nation, is alarming,” Hankins said. “At this time, we are still planning for a full return to in-person learning. Of course, we will also offer a full-time remote learning for families too.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s guidance recommends a full return to in-person learning. Last year, LKSD schools were either completely remote or were only in person part-time. Since then, half the region has become fully vaccinated. The CDC says that the risk for COVID-19 transmission in schools can be lowered through mitigation strategies like masking, physical distancing, and regular testing, which are all measures that LKSD is implementing. 

Hankins said that remote learning will remain an option until all students have access to the vaccine. Currently, only children 12 and older are eligible to receive it. Hankins said that LKSD does not require anyone to get the shots.

“However, we do know that the vaccine is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic, so it's certainly encouraged,” Hankins said.

Hankins said that students and staff will be required to practice universal masking regardless of vaccination status while in the school. The masking mandate is based on recent guidance from the CDC and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation. However, masking will be a little more lenient while playing sports.

“Students will wear masks during sports when they are not competing directly or actively engaged in practice or training. So, for example, in cross country, you know, masks are, of course, not recommended while running, but recommended at all other times during the event,” Hankins said.

Students will be allowed to travel both in-region and out of the region for sports competitions as long as they are following each community’s local travel mandates.

Each school site will offer periodic testing, conducted either weekly or bi-weekly, which students will need parent permission to participate in. Hankins urged parents to sign that waiver.

“It will help us keep students safe and keep our classrooms open. So again, I just want to stress the importance of the testing strategy and signing your students up for that,” Hankins said.

Hankins said that filling the remaining open teaching positions has been challenging with the pandemic. That’s on top of a national teacher shortage. She said that there are nine elementary school positions and three secondary school positions still open across the district.

Greg Kim was a news reporter for KYUK from 2019-2022.
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