GRAB AND GO - Library patron Tina Johnson, left, and Joanna Perensovich, information services librarian, wear masks in the Sitka Library this afternoon. The library no longer has couches for patrons, but does have computer desks widely spaced apart for people to access for one-hour periods. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Holst Relates In-Person, Virtual School Plan

Sentinel Staff Writer

The planning process for reopening local schools in late summer began Thursday night at the first meeting of the Smart Start Task Force at Harrigan Centennial Hall auditorium.

The task force is comprised of roughly 40 individuals chosen by principals and other school administration officials to consider ways to resume classes while mitigating the spread of COVID-19. 

Interim school district superintendent John Holst laid out a number of scenarios, including dividing classes into sections that would alternately physically attend school and attend remotely through computer connections.

Alaska schools closed their doors and shifted to distance learning in March in response to the pandemic.

News media and the general public were excluded from the physical Centennial Hall gathering Thursday night, but Holst’s opening presentation could be viewed remotely through a video-conference link.

Holst instructed the group to “create a plan to make schools safe, and communicate those steps to parents, students, and staff so they feel safe. This is going to be a major issue.”

After Holst’s presentation the task force broke up into separate work groups.

August 27 is presently the date picked for school to start.

As for students physically returning to school, Holst said that keeping a proper distance between individuals will be difficult.

“Promote social distancing. This is the one. This is going to be our Achilles Heel,” he said.

In another allusion to Greek mythology, Holst’s slideshow included a depiction of Sisyphus, who was forced for eternity to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down each time. Modern references to Sisyphus allude to tasks being difficult.

“This isn’t going to be an easy push. We are going to be working uphill. There is no question this is going to be difficult,” Holst said of the classical reference.

Holst said that any likely plan will involve “blended learning,” which involves splitting the student body into cohorts in order to reduce the number of students in schools at any one time.

“Some students at home, some students at school. Perhaps dividing students into an A group and a B group,” Holst said. He specified that the ‘A’ and ‘B’ group designations will have nothing to do with academic performance.

He added that the need for proper physical distancing is a key reason that schools are looking at “blended learning strategies.”

“That’s why in all likelihood we’re going to operate a lot of A-B days,” he said.

Holst said that would involve both synchronous and asynchronous learning.

“Synchronous means that the learning is being done simultaneously, right now,” he said. “So we have a teacher in a room with 15 or 12 fifth graders. And that teacher has her laptop sitting there with her camera, and the kids at home are doing exactly what the kids at school are doing. That’s synchronous. It’s difficult to do… (but) that’s the best there is.

“Asynchronous means you’re communicating with the kids, telling them what the assignments are, telling them to get it done, getting online with them. But it isn’t going on simultaneously.”

Holst said that in discussions with SEARHC Chief Medical Officer Elliot Bruhl, he sees the prospect for increased testing in the community.

“Dr. Bruhl has told me ... that they are working on a grant for testing. And if they get it, they will be able to start testing every Saturday and Sunday, anyone who comes,” Holst said.

Holst added that school staff members, in any scenario for opening the schools, will clean schools daily, from classrooms to playgrounds.

He said Sitka won’t follow the proposed Anchorage plan of bringing all students back to their buildings in person.

“I almost fell off my chair when I saw it,” he said. “I cannot believe that they are planning on bringing all students into their schools on low and medium risk,” he said.

Any local plan, he said, will show a low, medium, and high assessment of COVID-19 risk. In the state’s assessment of coronavirus risk, Sitka is currently considered medium risk, color coded as yellow.

The final plan for school operation is to be complete by the end of July, just under one month before the scheduled date for schools to start up again, the school district has announced.

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-10-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of noon Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 51

Total statewide – 1,323

Total (cumulative) deaths – 17

Active cases in Sitka – 5 (2 resident; 3 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 13 (11 resident; 2 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 80.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 




Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020



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