Boreal Sun Charter School

First grade teacher Stephanie Graf's classroom during the Boreal Sun Charter School open house Tuesday evening, August 15, 2017.

If public schools open next month, students in the Fairbanks district are going to be asked to mask up and periodically help with cleaning and sanitizing. The school day is being reduced to five hours.

Under a plan forming at the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, middle school and high school students would attend classes two to three days a week — learning from home the other days — while elementary students would continue with a five-day schedule.

Lunchroom capacity will shrink.

“We have to be really careful that at lunch we are not putting hundreds of students together at the same time,” said Superintendent Karen Gaborik, who hosted an online briefing about the 2020-2021 school year on Wednesday. She shared some of the plans underway for what public education during a pandemic will look like. About 1,000 people reportedly tuned in to the talk, which was streamed on the internet.

A lot of decisions, such as what time school would start and the start date, are pending.

The school district has about 13,500 students at about 35 schools plus about 2,500 teachers, staff and administrators.

Teachers are being trained for online learning this summer, and some are pivoting to virtual education entirely, Gaborik said.

The school district is preparing for an influx of families interested in online learning.

“We know we have families who just won’t be comfortable sending their students to school,” Gaborik said.

The first day of school is proposed to be moved from Aug. 17, a Monday, to later in the week. A decision by the school board is pending.

The school district will put out a survey in the coming days to get feedback as administrators plan for the school year.

A “design council” of about 30 people has been meeting this summer to help with planning, Gaborik said.

“Our employee units are extremely involved,” she said. “We’ve got parents involved.”

Details about student transportation and food service will firm up after school schedules are finalized.

Gaborik offered samples of elementary, middle school and high school schedules. School work this fall will be graded, she said.

The elementary schedule shows students attending weekdays with a 30-minute morning meeting, a two-hour learning period, 30 minutes for lunch, 30 minutes for recess and ending with a 90-minute learning period.

Middle school students would attend school either Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each block would alternate Fridays. Work would be assigned for non-class days.

On class days, the sample schedule shows three 50-minute periods in the morning followed by a 50-minute lunch and two more 50-minute periods in the afternoon.

High school students would attend school on the same schedule as middle school students. The sample schedule shows their class days would involve two 80-minute periods followed by an hour of lunch and “student support” and ending after a third 80-minute period.

High school courses would be delivered in a nine-week accelerated format, covering a semester’s worth of content in a quarter, according to Gaborik. They are condensing the work so that students can catch up due to missed work from when the state shut down public schools in March, according to Board of Education President Wendy Dominique.

Teachers at all levels will have a 30-minute preparatory period in the morning and a 60-minute period for preparation and collaborating after students leave for the day.

Administrators are working on prioritizing special education services. A plan for those services is pending.

Habits that will be encouraged throughout the school day include frequent handwashing, minimizing the mixing of students and wearing face masks, according to Gaborik.

Students will need to work on social distancing and maintaining their “personal bubble,” the superintendent said.

At times — like now — when the COVID-19 case count is rising, common touch points such as door handles and stairway railings will need to be cleaned hourly. Most schools have only one janitor, Gaborik said.

“It will be an all hands on deck situation,” she said.

If a school has a student or employee who tests positive for COVID-19, the school will be closed for cleaning. The school district is looking at using the same methods as they use for inclement weather to get information out. Students would carry on with school work online.

Gaborik said the decision of whether to conduct in-person classes at public schools this fall is being left to be sorted out by local education leaders.

The number of coronavirus cases in Fairbanks, as in the rest of Alaska, continues to climb in what some are describing as a second wave.

School district officials will consult with “medical partners” about closing schools, Gaborik said.

“The big question is, if we were to start school today, would we go to school?” she said. “That is one of those questions that the answer is just not known yet.”

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.

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