A Dec. 15 notice from Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop notified parents and the community that public schools will go mask optional after students return from Christmas break.
“Transmission numbers in Anchorage are trending down and the Municipality of Anchorage’s (MOA) emergency order has been lifted,” Bishop said via the district’s website. “Our own COVID-19 testing now shows a downward trend and cases in schools have remained low as well.”
Bishop acknowledged that the Omicron variant “may have left us with unanswered questions,” but added that the district has “done quite a bit to be prepared for life with COVID.”
The district has enforced its mask mandate throughout the year, despite the fact that children show very mild symptoms from contracting COVID and not a single Alaskan under age 20 has died from the virus.
Bishop, however, took the opportunity to highlight that the district has made the vaccine available for children, as well as boosters, through what she called “large-scale vaccine clinics throughout the month of November, during which more than 3,000 vaccines were administered.”
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“Therefore, I am confident that ASD is able to transition to parent-informed masking when we return to school on January 3,” she said. “It means parents will consider the risk levels in their family and decide for themselves if they want their child attending school wearing a mask.”
When given the option to mask during the past summer school programs, Bishop noted that about 40% of staff and students chose to cover up, while the vast majority went mask free.
The mask mandate has raised considerable controversy in Anchorage, spilling over into school board meetings and the wider public.
She said the district plans to keep its “strong layers of mitigation,” including rapid testing, frequent hand washing, social distancing when possible and additional sanitation. Additionally, students who ride the bus will still be required to follow federal mandates for public transportation.
Bishop ended her letter by warning that the district may return to mandated masking if it deems it necessary.