Superintendent of Anchorage Public Schools Deena Bishop told the school board this week that the distance learning program implemented by the school district is failing students.
“We are not doing a good job of educating our young people with distance delivery,” she said. The decision that was made last Monday to not return to the classroom was based off of Anchorage being in the highest risk category for COVID-19 spread.
“The mission of our school district is to prepare our students for success,” she said. “We are not meeting that mission.”
But her hands are tied as a superintendent. The teacher’s union is in control of when students return. If teachers refused to come back, the schools cannot open.
“I saw the AEA (Anchorage Eduction Association) survey as an honest assessment of where our staff was. About one quarter of them, for personal reasons, do not want to begin. The 76 percent or so that had some trepidation or none at all — I see that as favorable,” Bishop said.
Bishop said she, too, has trepidation about being in public areas every day, such as stores or offices. But she says she is vigilant about her mask usage, her hand sanitization, and her social distancing.
“Being laissez faire is not what we’re asking for. What we’re asking for is to meet our mission. And prior to last Monday I did have support of state officials, and there was caution given with the rapid increase. Hence the postponement was made.”
Anchorage schools, she said, will not return to being in a “medium risk” status for a year, she said.
“We cannot wait a year to educate our children in buildings.”
She paused for several seconds. Her voice broke inside her masked face: “This is passion in my voice … I’m letting you know COVID is killing our children in more ways than one. We need to stand for children today.”
That sentiment was reinforced by a parent interviewed by Must Read Alaska this week, who said her children have never been contacted by their public school teacher for two of their classes since the start of the school year in August.
This parent MRAK interviewed is using the Anchorage School District’s “Canvas” distance learning application, which allows the parent to oversee the progress of his or her child,.
“We haven’t been introduced, we don’t know what the teachers look like — and these are core classes, math science, social studies,” the parent said.
Last week, the district announced that in-person learning in classroom would have to wait, although it had been set to resume in October. Schools have been closed since March and Anchorage is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 positive cases this fall.
School board member Andy Holleman, however, came to the union’s defense and said that opening the schools could lead to COVID-19 spreading throughout the community at a faster pace, putting the entire community at risk.