Anchorage students will be forced to wear masks after Christmas break, at least until Jan. 15, but perhaps longer.
The Anchorage School Board voted 6-1 on Dec. 20 to override Superintendent Deena Bishop’s decision to nix masks by Jan. 3 when students return from the holidays. Board Member Dave Donley was the only member to vote against extending the mandate.
In defending her initial Dec. 15 announcement that masks would be voluntary in the new year, Bishop said the number of positive cases in the district were very low. Of the 50,000 students, staff and teachers there are maybe 20 reported cases each week, she said. And that’s with 900 weekly tests.
Bishop acknowledged that the issue is very divisive, but her decision was based on current case counts.
“As you can tell not everybody is on the same page,” she told the board. “Our community is very split on this.”
That said, Bishop pointed out that the Anchorage Assembly rescinded its citywide mandate earlier this month, and it no longer deems Anchorage to be in an emergency situation with regard to spreading and hospital capacity. Bishop said she received many questions and emails from the community following the Anchorage Assembly’s decision. People wanted to know whether the school district would follow suit.
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The majority of the school board, however, disagreed with Bishop’s decision, with several expressing concern that there may be a surge in cases following the return of students from their holiday travels.
For now, the mask mandate will remain in effect until Jan. 15. At that point the board will consider whether to extend it.
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.