Basketball brouhaha highlights school board -parent divide



Once again, the Juneau School District found itself at odds with a large group of parents over Covid-19 policies set by the school board and enforced by school administrators that failed to consider changing conditions and available science.

The dispute erupted when the Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bear boys’ basketball team won the Southeast Alaska regional championship after defeating the host team, Ketchikan Kings – thereby qualifying the Bears to attend the ASAA State Tournament in Wasilla.  

The existing JDHS travel policy for sports teams does not allow teams to travel to an area in the state that is designated a Covid “Red Zone” which the Matsu area was currently. 

The Bears requested a waiver, but despite the efforts of many parents who petitioned administrators and school board members, Superintendent Bridget Weiss summarily announced no exemption would be granted and travel to the Mat-Su tournament was denied.  

Ketchikan, the regional conference runner-up, was offered and accepted an invitation to go in Juneau’s place, joining other Southeast Alaska schools from Sitka, Mt. Edgecumbe, and Klawock that sent teams to the tourney.

Parents, coaches, and team members were understandably upset given the cancellation last year of the tournament and their hard-fought battle this year to qualify despite all the Covid restrictions. For many on the team, this was their last chance to compete in the state tournament and perhaps garner an athletic scholarship at a university. 

Could this dispute have been avoided and better-handled?  Certainly, had school officials taken the initiative to re-evaluate existing Covid policies in light of changing conditions on the ground.  After all, Juneau was reportedly the only team qualifying for the tournament that was forbidden to travel (Valdez decided not to go after some members of their team tested positive).

Furthermore, communication between the team, parents and school officials was seriously lacking.  Why not schedule a meeting with team members and parents to consider their concerns and suggestions before deciding?   Since the policy was enacted last year, Covid science and information has progressed significantly, and, most importantly, vaccines are prevalent (Alaska has one of the country’s highest rates of vaccination).  The team had safely and successfully traveled several times, observing every recommended precaution including wearing masks, testing, and isolating.  It doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that the policy could have been modified, or a waiver granted.

The school district raised the specter of district liability were team members to contract Covid or the possibility of community infection when the team returned home.  Team members and parents already signed a waiver of liability to participate in school sports and participation in the tournament was totally voluntary.   

As it stands now, many students taking spring break vacations with their families and traveling throughout the U. S. where Covid is present will be returning to Juneau. They are required to follow applicable Covid quarantine and testing rules before returning to the classroom. Those same precautions could have been enforced with sports team members.

The board declined to meet with parents and athletes to discuss available options thoughtfully and respectfully.  Even though school policy states “travel requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis”,  the school board and administrators chose the heavy-handed approach, rejecting parents’ pleas and rigidly enforcing the policy without consideration of mitigating factors.

This is reminiscent of JSD officials’ reluctance last year to re-consider their entire Smart Start policy that forbade in-person learning until earlier this year, despite CDC guidance to the contrary and the safe opening of many private schools around the state.

Just like the current dust-up, officials discounted parents’ legitimate concerns regarding the emotional, educational, and physical damage of Covid mandates, ignoring the science, and never clearly articulating the rationale behind their decisions.

Have school officials and school board members learned anything from this?

It’s hard to tell.  Spring sports are underway, and the school year is not yet over.  Will the school board and administrators be proactive and sit down with coaches, parents, and students to discuss possible policy changes before this happens again?

The key is two-way communication and, right now, that isn’t happening.

Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.


  1. The only lesson learned is don’t vote for today’s democrats and moderates,

    Today’s Democrats and moderates are out of touch with reality not their own reality . Maybe this JD High graduation class will be more encouraged get involved in civics, particularly the Juneau Republican, because of experiencing first-hand the communism where Democrats and moderates leaders are taking us.

    That’s the only best response: Get the children to wake up because these Democrats and moderates living today over 30 will one day soon be nothing but a memory and an old geezer of 70 when these boys girls, no longer boys and girls, will be 30.

  2. “The board declined to meet with parents and athletes to discuss available options thoughtfully and respectfully. Even though school policy states “travel requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis”, the school board and administrators chose the heavy-handed approach, rejecting parents’ pleas and rigidly enforcing the policy without consideration of mitigating factors.”

    Yes, the school board and officials should have communicated much earlier and reconsidered the policies. As a former high school basketball player who was fortunate enough to go to the state tournament twice, I can say without a doubt that this would have been devastating – a lifetime opportunity stolen. The boys earned their trip to state. Surely an exception could have been made, no doubt the players would have been happy to comply with any safety measures required. I’m not from Juneau, but I emailed the Juneau school board a week and a half ago to beg them to reconsider, unfortunately by that time the team had already forfeited their spot and there was nothing more that could change the situation. Hope the boys will overcome and be stronger and better citizens as a result.

    • While I’m unsure that sports related travel is any different than other school activities travel, I really doubt the statement “travel requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”
      Cry us all a river here as these responsible adults (elected and hired) made a decision that their coach knew was a done deal as soon as Wasilla was selected as the location for that tournament. And Wasilla is hardly a location full of vaccinated people as well as an area of AK that has large numbers of cases of COVID-19.

  3. What now it’s a Mandate, not a law. To wear a masks of plane’s federal transportation.
    Stop the Madness.
    Stop screwing around with are Kids life’s.

  4. Small mindedness of Lefties.
    Wake up, people this is all about control.
    Masks don’t work.
    If you are under 60 yo you have a 99.997% chance of survival.
    If you are under 24 yo you don’t even register on the CDC for deaths.
    The “vaccine” isn’t a vaccine – it’s dna altering gene “therapy” – never before dispensed to humans.
    It is not an FDA approved drug – it was issued under an EUA – Emergency Use Authorization.
    Life insurance won’t pay out if you die from the “vaccine” because it isn’t FDA approved.
    Juneau basketball team, I reaaly feel sorry for you – remember this lesson for the rest of your life – it wasn’t conservatives on the school board who denied you, your rightful place at the tourney. It was Progressive Liberals – the cult of big government.

  5. When government trumps a parents rights to raise their child, then government has to go. These kids have had their lives forever altered due to the idiotic response to a VIRUS! Anyone that believes what has been done under the guise of “safety” has lost the ability to rationally address a problem.

  6. The National Extortion, excuse me, Education Association is a part of the union storm trooper wing of the Communist, excuse me, Democrat Party. The Juneau Education Association is a part of NEA and could put Lenin’s corpse on the Juneau School Board, and usually does. You lowly citizens aren’t even a part of the equation.

    • From someone whose bathroom has been breeding Bolsheviks for too many years to count Art, this is just your usual drivel IMO.
      Was there some reason you aren’t calling them “fascists?” Heheh!

  7. Meanwhile, average academic achievement scores in the Juneau School District are F. One of the schools must increase its average achievement by over 200% to even achieve a low D average. Source
    This train wreck of a bureaucracy is led by Ms. Weiss. She is an abysmal failure at her job for $166k per year. Prove me wrong, Bridget, and I will apologize in this public arena.

  8. Art,
    Why it was only a few days ago that you were calling those Anchorage assembly members fascists and then even attempted to justify your asinine call when called out on it.
    Pretty obvious you didn’t know the difference then-you say you do now? Heheh!
    Not a chance this old dog has learned a new trick IMO.

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