Anchorage School District, University of Alaska recommend masking for school year

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop at Huffman Elementary School on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020.
Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop at Huffman Elementary School on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop is recommending universal masking inside district buildings, according to a letter sent to families Saturday evening. 

“These past few weeks I have gathered information, heard from parents and staff, and spoken with experts,” said Bishop’s letter. “The science tells us the new variant is highly contagious, is circulating around the globe, and is at a high rate in our community.”

The letter outlined a mitigation plan for the school year which encourages parents to keep sick children at home, continue to offer vaccination clinics to those who are eligible, and not require close contacts to quarantine if they are vaccinated.   

RELATED: Alaska reports three more COVID-19 deaths, high case counts continue 

Families have been awaiting a decision from the district as other federal and national organizations have updated mask guidances for schools in recent weeks. The highly-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has led to a surge in cases across the country and throughout Alaska, just weeks before school is about to begin for many students. 

Parent groups on all sides of the debate have been organizing email writing campaigns and plans to testify at the next school board meeting, Tuesday, Aug. 3. 

RELATED: Students need to be in classrooms with masks this fall, says U.S. Education Secretary

In an interview last week, the superintendent called the feedback “divisive” and evenly split between families who want a mask mandate and parents who don’t. But the district will continue to follow the science, Bishop said.

The school board will discuss the superintendent’s recommendation at the Tuesday board meeting.

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Meanwhile, University of Alaska president Pat Pitney announced Friday that face masks will be required indoors at all UA locations in communities with “high” or “substantial” transmission under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Right now,  most of Alaska falls into one of those two categories, including Anchorage.

The UA policy makes exceptions for private residences and individuals alone in a private office with the door shut. UA’s masking requirement goes into effect Monday.

Alaska Pacific University enacted a similar policy last week.

Alaska Public Media reporter Kavitha George contributed to this story. 

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