SMOOTH SAILING – A troller cruises across Sitka Sound during a hazy sunset Friday evening. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

MEHS Plans to Reopen with Kids Protected

By GARLAND KENNEDY

Sentinel Staff Writer

Mt. Edgecumbe High School has announced a plan for resuming in-person education this fall with a number of precautions in place to prevent transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

The state-run boarding school was abruptly shut down and the students sent home in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan for resuming classes stresses the need for regular cleaning, hand washing, mask wearing, and physical distancing, but MEHS Superintendent Janelle Vanasse said she hopes students will still receive the full high school experience.

“Part of what makes Mt. Edgecumbe so special is that students create real family relationships with other students, with RAs (resident advisors) with staff, and we need to be able to continue to do that. But we will not be able to do some of the closeness physically,” Vanasse said today.

She emphasized that plans are still in process and that MEHS is cooperating with the Sitka School District and City of Sitka in making a plan to protect against spread of the virus. She added that some uncertainty remains.

“We don’t have all the answers, nobody does right now. We expect to be navigating this and we’re happy to have partners in SEARHC. We have a really good relationship with the Sitka School District,” she said.

With the help of SEARHC, Mt. Edgecumbe High will have its own virus testing capability on campus.

The reopening plan states:

“The testing protocol may be adjusted with continued medical information and guidance; however, it is expected that students will be tested at the start of the year and routinely tested throughout the school year.”

Any student travel will involve testing and quarantines as well, the document says.

While close cooperation with local authorities remains high on MEHS’ priority list, Mt. Edgecumbe students likely will not be crossing the bridge to Baranof Island for what they call “town leave” unless virus risk becomes low, the superintendent said.

“The point where we are considered low risk, we would indeed allow students to go to town with a mask and social distancing,” Vanasse said. 

In moderate or high risk scenarios, the school reopening plan stipulates that all activities will remain on campus.

With reopening, students will have desks spaced at least three feet apart, the reopening plan states. Vanasse said boarding schools in Australia and New Zealand have served as models.

“They’re doing very well,” she said of those schools. “What they are doing with their classroom spacing, that is where we got to having desks in a row and facing one direction,” she said. Masks will be required when distancing is not possible.

“If we get to the point that we are requiring masks 24-7 its not going to be doable,” she said. “It’s really finding a place where kids have a break from their mask in places and situations where it’s safe. So it is reasonable for them to keep them on at times when you can’t socially distance.”

She added that school administration will keep updates on the local situation. The state-issued risk matrix for the prevalence of the COVID-19 virus is color-coded green, yellow, and red. Different risk levels initiate different protocols. Mt. Edgecumbe will be in “yellow” when students return. “Green” would indicate a lack of community spread. In “red,” Vanasse said, students would likely be sent home, as they were in March.

“If you’re getting community spread that cannot be identified or isolated very quickly, that is what we’re all really watching for and that would require some significant action,” she said.

She added that the autumn  cross country season remains uncertain, but that travel to communities for races would be possible only in a low-risk environment.

“What’s important is that we are all working to move through this and we’ve got plans, but we also need to remain flexible,” she said.

Vanasse also noted in addition to virus precautions students would have access to mental health services if needed.

“We already have pretty robust access to counseling, so that’s really helpful in these times. We don’t really need to boost up our number of counselors, we just need to make sure our counselors are prepared for what may come out of a pandemic,” Vanasse said.

Mt. Edgecumbe High’s full virus mitigation plan is available on their website http://mehs.ss13.sharpschool.com/home under the General + COVID tab.

The reopening plan for the Sitka School District is being drawn up by a task force of community and school district representatives, and is to be presented to the School Board for approval by the end of this month.

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 8-4-20)

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 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

New cases as of Monday: 59

Total statewide – 3,394

Total (cumulative) deaths – 25

Active cases in Sitka – 17 (12 resident; 5 non-resident) *

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

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 136.

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. 

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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

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

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Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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20 YEARS AGO
August 2000

The School Board Tuesday discussed district policy on head lice. At present, students found to have head lice are kept from school until all lice are removed. The revised policy allows students who have nits to remain in school, with information on treatment and a nit-removing comb to be sent home with them.

50 YEARS AGO
August 1970

Legal notice: Sealed bids will be received ... for furnishing and installation of siding on the City
Garage, located on Halibut Point Road. ... City of Sitka, Alaska Fermin Gutierrez, Director of Public Works. 

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