Mat-Su schools prepare to reopen Monday after storm damage

A person wearing a mask
Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani at Dena’ina Elementary School in Wasilla on September 21, 2020. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District is preparing to reopen schools Monday after last weekend’s storm closed them for the week.

The district said power outages and cold temperatures led to water line breaks, boiler failures, broken sprinkler systems and other maintenance issues. But on Friday, Superintendent Randy Trani said the district is on track to fully reopen on Monday.

“Our facilities folks have just been heroic,” he said. “They’ve been working 24 hours a day, first to keep the buildings as warm as possible during the outage, and now to fix all of the issues that have come up.”

Just six of the district’s 40 schools were open on Thursday and Friday. The district did not offer remote learning during school closures this week but may add more instructional days at the end of the school year.

Some parents expressed frustration about the school closures on social media. But Jenn Heyl, whose kids attend Redington High School in Wasilla, said parents need to think about the storm’s impact on the entire community. She said she appreciates the district’s efforts to keep parents informed.

“Honestly, we’ve had a rough two years anyway. As far as school goes, this is just one more hang-up,” she said. “It is what it is. They’re going to be a little behind, teachers are going to have to adjust their lesson plans, which is never easy. But if there’s one thing they’ve gotten good at in two years, it’s shifting on the fly.”

RELATED: 12 photos of the wreckage from Mat-Su’s powerful windstorm

Most students will have been out for three weeks when they return to school on Monday. The windstorm started at the end of winter break. Trani said he’s looking ahead to a possible increase in COVID cases driven by the omicron variant.

Still, he said, there won’t be a district-wide mask mandate. Instead, masks become mandatory at individual schools if there’s significant community spread, he said. Trani said that strategy has kept debate over masking to a minimum in the district.

“I feel like it’s given the people who live in Mat-Su confidence that we’re trying to respond to all sectors of our community,” he said. “If you’re a person who thinks we should be masked all the time, you at least see that we respond when cases are high. And if you think we should never be masked, you at least see that it’s not a mask mandate forever.”

Like the Anchorage School District, the Mat-Su Borough School District will follow CDC guidelines and change isolation periods from 10 days to five. Trani said if case numbers lead to staff shortages, some schools may have to temporarily close.

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