Alaska school reopening plans left to districts as state orders 150,000 face masks

July 23, 2020 | KTUU | Sean Maguire |

JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) – Alaska’s plans to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic will be left to individual school districts and local communities, the state education commissioner said.

“We are empowering communities to make those decisions in cooperation with their local health officials,” said Commissioner Michael Johnson of the Department of Education. If school districts don’t have local health officials, state officials will give guidance.

In response to COVID health concerns, the education department recently ordered roughly 150,000 face masks, one for every student and school staff member across Alaska.

“When we found out FEMA was offering that, we jumped on it. And those will be shipped out directly to school districts,” Johnson said.

The face masks were offered at no cost to Alaska.

The education commissioner doesn’t have the authority to implement a mask mandate for Alaska’s schools. The governor could order that students and staff wear masks at schools but Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for the governor, said that decision would be left to individual school districts.

During a House Education Committee hearing held on Thursday, lawmakers heard from Tom Klaaymeyer, the president of NEA-Alaska, as he discussed the results of a survey of over 3,500 union members.

“Fully half of our members indicated that they are very uncomfortable with a full reopening,” Klaaymeyer said. Close to half of members support reopening schools using an online teaching model.

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