Anchorage students on Wednesday had their fourth day of remote learning in the past week, as residents’ frustrations mounted over city snow plowing that the school district said was still needed to safely bus students to school.
At the same time, more than three feet of snow has fallen on Alaska’s largest city, some of which had yet to be cleared from some roads and many sidewalks.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said during a Facebook Live video stream Wednesday afternoon that city plow crews have been contending with a record amount of snow.
In his discussions with the Anchorage School District prior to the most recent cancellation of in-person school, Bronson said he felt that some schools would have been safe to open but that it was ultimately school district administrators’ decision to keep all Anchorage students doing schoolwork from home.
Bronson said he wasn’t blaming the district for its decision, but he did defend the city’s snow removal plan and the workers doing the plowing.
During Wednesday’s live video stream, Bronson addressed a commenter who said that in Alaska, snow removal should be better.
“Last year, we didn’t do better,” Bronson said. “And this year, as frustrated as people are, we executed our plan, so we did do better.”
That meant calling on private contractors to quickly scale up snow removal, he said. When back-to-back storms last December overwhelmed the city’s crews, Bronson said it took 50 days to get contractors into the mix. This time, he said, it took five.
The city’s in-house crews were also better staffed this year, Bronson said. While last year, some heavy equipment was idle because of operator shortages, Bronson said as of Friday, all 30 of the city’s graders were operating continuously.
Bronson said the more than three feet of wet snow that fell in the last week is about half of what falls, on average, in an entire winter.
“And we could hire a lot more people and buy a lot more equipment,” he said. “But then, as next winter, if we have a black winter where we have very little snow, and we’re paying our increased property taxes, I don’t think people would be real happy with me, if we did that.”
The last time students attended classes in-person in Anchorage was Wednesday, Nov. 8. Friday was a pre-planned day off for students and a professional development day for school district staff.
Anchorage residents and parents continued to voice their frustration over unplowed streets – some going so far as to accuse city workers of lying about what zones had been plowed – and the inability of the city and school district to get students back in classrooms.
Alison Knipfer grew up in Anchorage and now teaches elementary students in the district.
“Remote learning works great for some students, and a lot less great for others,” she said. “For me, as a teacher, you know, one or two snow days is OK, but now the anxiety is really building.”
Three of Knipfer’s sons graduated from Anchorage schools and her youngest son is still in high school. While elementary teachers such as herself haven’t assigned any new material, she said, middle and high schoolers have been asked to make progress remotely.
Knipfer said she’s frustrated, stressed and worried that students’ test scores will suffer this year.
“I mean, we did not learn,” she said. “This is a repeat, like, almost verbatim of last December. And how we didn’t learn from that to prevent this from happening again is breathtaking. To me, it is gross mismanagement on the part of whoever’s in charge of that at the city. Seriously.”
School district officials did not respond directly to Bronson’s comments but said in a statement late Wednesday that, “we are on track to be back in school tomorrow.”
The statement warned that school bus service Thursday morning would be limited, students should be dressed in warm clothing in case their waits at bus stops were longer than usual and that families were encouraged to drive their kids to school, if possible.