EXPECT DELAYS – Lines of traffic move slowly down Sawmill Creek Road today as a repaving project progresses near the Indian River bridge. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

School Board Studies Concerns in Reopening

Sentinel Staff Writer

The Sitka School Board discussed their thoughts and aired some concerns about reopening schools at a Monday night meeting.

School buildings are scheduled to reopen August 27 after nearly five months without students because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Interim District Superintendent John Holst stressed the need for caution in bringing students back into the schools.

“If people are as careful here in the next months as they were last spring, there isn’t any reason to believe that we can’t continue to operate. The schools could have continued to run last spring,” he said.

The reopening plan devised by the district’s Smart Start Task Force will require all staff, as well as students from sixth grade to high school seniors, to wear masks during the school day under all risk levels.

 In moderate or higher risk, all students, including younger children, will wear masks.

Holst gave this rationale for the mask policy;

“I am wearing my mask to protect you, what are you doing? You have got to be protecting me. There is real logic that everybody should be wearing a mask. And if you choose not to you’re not just endangering yourself, you’re endangering everyone else. And that is not right.”

He likened the requirement to wear a mask to the requirement to wear shoes in school.

The plan also specifies that parents will be allowed to choose between in-person education, distance learning, and home school for their children.

Holst added that if a child is ill, they should not come to school.

“Parents, make sure that if your child is not feeling well, has a fever, that the child stays home,” he said.

He raised concern about the situation in Anchorage, where the big spike in COVID cases has caused schools to cancel plans for in-person classes and shift to an all-online plan.

“The big concern is a big breakout, which is going on right now in Anchorage,” Holst said. “They were planning on opening, then a blended opening, now they are not going to open. The number of cases in Anchorage has pretty much exploded.”

School Board president Amy Morrison said a degree of flexibility will be needed.

“I am sure we’re going to get into the first week of school and be like ‘Oh crap, that doesn’t work.’ And that really is the reason we did not want to officially vote as a board on a plan, because we need it to be adaptable. Our administration has done an amazing job and we need to give them the authority to make last minute changes as they need to and not call an emergency board meeting.”

The board has not voted on the school reopening plan, as was erroneously reported in the Sentinel on Friday. Instead, board members discussed the plan and fielded questions from the public, but did not vote.

Morrison hoped that, as the school year starts, Sitkans will be patient with school officials.

“Be patient with your teachers, be patient with your administrators. Everybody is doing this, nobody has done it before. Everybody is flying by the seat of their pants,” Morrison said.

Board member Eric Van Cise said there may be some learning required to get students to adhere to distancing requirements.

“Middle schoolers and high schoolers, I haven’t seen a lot of social distancing going on... there is going to be a little bit of a learning curve,” Van Cise said.

Board member Blossom Twitchell brought up the possibility of asymptomatic virus carriers attending school and spreading the virus undetected.

“What we discussed tonight are mostly plans for symptomatic cases. What are we going to do about asymptomatic cases? I know that Dr. Bruhl has asked us not to test students, but if there are students in the population that are asymptomatic that could be an issue,” Twitchell said.

Holst said Dr. Eliott Bruhl, chief medical officer of SEARHC, has said free testing will be provided for all school district staff upon return, but there is no current plan for students to be tested.

Bruhl did not attend the School Board meeting, but submitted a letter, which Holst read aloud.

“The overall balance of benefits of returning to school outweighs the risks,” Bruhl said in the letter. “The current scientific knowledge allows for a combination of mitigation approaches to keep students and staff safe. By incorporating safety measures such as increased cleaning and disinfection, physical distancing, and face masking, improved ventilation, and altered scheduling structure, the district is taking the necessary steps to prevent the spread of the virus in its buildings.”

Along with the discussion of the reopening plan, the board approved a number of policies on first reading, from a policy on a drug- and alcohol-free workplace to environmental education. The board also reviewed new policies on COVID-19 sick leave for staff.

Keet Gooshi Heen science teacher Kelly Buxton, commenting from the public, raised concerns about staff members’ possible exposure to the virus.

“My concern was with the inequity of exposure to the virus – that elementary teachers would have more exposure as opposed to secondary level,” Buxton said.

The board will hold listening sessions from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday in the Assembly chamber at Centennial Hall.

The Wednesday listening session is for school employees, and the Thursday session is for students and parents. The event will be livestreamed on Zoom through a link on the school district website.

The board’s next scheduled regular meeting is August 19.





You have no rights to post comments

August 5, 2020

A Note To Our Readers

Reopening: Phase One:


On March 30 the Daily Sitka Sentinel began taking precautions against the coronavirus, which was starting to show up in Alaska.

We closed our building to the public and four key employees started working remotely. Home delivery was suspended to protect our carriers from exposure to the virus.

Four months later, the virus is still with us and the precautions remain in effect.

In appreciation for the willingness of our subscribers to pick up their daily paper at drop-off sites, the Sentinel was free to all readers, and subscriptions were extended without charge.

As of August 1 the Sentinel is once again charging for subscriptions, but the present method of having subscribers pick up their papers at designated sites will continue.

The expiration date of all subscriptions has been extended without charge for an additional four months.

We thank our readers for their support in these uncertain times, and especially those who paid for the paper despite the free offer.

We look forward to the time when we can safely resume home delivery.

To check on the expiration of your subscription or to make a payment please call 747-3219. The subscription email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We also will be mailing out reminder cards.

The single copy price is again 75 cents. The news racks do not require coins to open, but we ask that the 75 cents for a non-subscription single copy sale be paid with coins in the slot.

– The Sitka Sentinel Staff


Login Form



Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 8-7-20)

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 11:20 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 53

Total statewide – 3,536

Total (cumulative) deaths – 25

Active cases in Sitka – 20 (14 resident; 6 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 15 (11 resident; 4 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 141.

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. 




August 2000

High prices for chum salmon, low pink returns, and record numbers of fish in Deep Inlet have turned the Sitka fishing grounds into Route 66 this summer. “Overall it’s been a fantastic season so far,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, operations manager for the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.

August 1970

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Ireney, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, will head a gathering of Orthodox prelates from North American and abroad in ceremonies canonizing the first American Orthodox saints, Father Herman of Alaska. A group of Sitkans will fly to Kodiak for the event.