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Community Perspective

It’s not safe for a return to in-person school

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We, the staff of Ryan Middle School, come from across the political, social and ethnic spectrum. We are not just teachers, we are your family, friends, customers and fellow Alaskans. We have no other cause than to serve the community and educate our students. Together we have hundreds of years of collective experience. Though we would really like to have students back in our classrooms, under the current circumstances we cannot keep your children and families safe from COVID-19 if you choose to send your children back to school right now. As a result of this, we are asking parents and families who can continue to keep their kids at home to do so.

We recognize that many families are in dire straits. We know this because many of us are also juggling with the same stresses of leaving kids at home unsupervised, having to return home to supervise our children and worrying about the impact this situation is having on the well being of our families.

Science tells us that COVID-19 is spread via respiratory droplets that are released when someone coughs, talks or sneezes. This high risk of transmission means students will not be coming back to the school environment that they remember. Under the current guidelines, students will mostly be in isolated groups which will not be of their choosing. To reduce the spread of the virus, safety measures such as wearing masks and social distancing have been implemented all over the country.

Here at Ryan, safety measures will include reduced student movement, decreased social engagement among the students and fewer elective classes. Even with these measures in place, we will not be able to follow the CDC or Alaska SmartStart Guidelines for social distancing. Science is against us right now. Transmission of the COVID virus within the state and community is on the rise. Medical experts are telling us this is not the time to open up schools to in-person classes.

In the meantime, we have seen many of our kids thriving in online education. Consistency is important for students and the online learning platform that has been adopted is hitting its stride. There were certainly bumps in the road along the way as we all were learning a new system; however, routine is setting in and students and teachers alike are finding a groove. Without classroom distractions, many teachers are finding they can spend more time teaching material as well as have the ability and time to give students more one-on-one attention. Under the current plan of student reentry into the buildings, teachers will be teaching both in-person and remote at the same time. Because of this, students will be getting less attention and instruction from their teachers. Learning is happening online, students are finding new and creative ways to have social interactions and those at most risk are able to use the building safely.

Fairbanks is a community of people that flourishes when we come together to protect what is ours. Unfortunately, this latest decision by the school board defies the advice and pleas of medical experts, local military leadership, community members, students and education personnel. The silver lining is that it is now in our hands as a community to decide how best to keep Fairbanks healthy and thriving. Every family can have a hand in where this community will be in the coming months/years.

Multiple vaccines are coming. By taking the cautious approach and setting the safety of our community as a priority, we can avoid more unnecessary loss. Therefore, we beg of you, if you are able to keep your student(s) in online classrooms just a little bit longer, please do so. Together we can keep Fairbanks healthy, and set a precedent and message to our youth, that the health of our community and being good stewards to our neighbors is of the utmost importance.

Submitted by Ken Gieser on behalf of the staff of Ryan Middle School in Fairbanks.

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