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News-Miner Opinion

Difficult choice ahead for schools: It’s anything but a normal year, and parents face a tough decision

News-Miner opinion: It’s July, the month in which the typical August start of the new K-12 school year creeps into the mind of parents and their children. The normal practice of buying school clothes and supplies usually begins. Kids start looking forward — many of them, anyway — to seeing friends again. Parents look ahead happily to seeing their children occupied with the school day.

It’s anything but normal now because of the coronavirus outbreak.

If things were normal, students in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District would have their first day of class on Aug. 17 this year. Teachers would be at school starting Aug. 10 to get ready.

What we have now, though, is a load of uncertainty.

Will school start on Aug. 17? Or will the start date be delayed?

When classes do begin, what will they look like? How many in-person days will there be? How many days of remote learning?

How long will a school day be?

And what about making up for the academic time lost earlier this year when the virus outbreak began and the governor ordered the schools to close? The school district administration has proposed a compressed learning plan for the start of the new year, compressing one semester into a single quarter to make up for the lost weeks from the end of the previous school year. Will students and teachers be able to handle that packed period?

And what about the health and safety of students, teachers and other on-site employees? Will the proposed social distancing and sanitizing measures be enough to satisfy not only health officials but also parents and employees?

Here’s the central component of what the school district administration has proposed so far, as explained in a public online presentation July 1 by district Superintendent Karen Gaborik:

Elementary school students would attend in person every day. Each day would start with a 30-minute morning meeting, then follow with a two-hour learning period, 30 minutes for lunch, 30 minutes for recess and concluding with a 90-minute learning period.

Middle and high students would be separated into two groups, with one group attending school in person Mondays and Wednesdays and the other attending Tuesdays and Thursdays. They would alternate on Fridays. As with elementary school, the day would be shortened for middle and high schools. Learning periods would be fewer in number but lengthened in time.

The plan, which has many other elements, can be found on the school district’s website at www.k12northstar.org.

The school district wants your opinion and has provided two surveys that ask, anonymously, questions about home internet access, preference for in-person or remote learning, level of concern about sending a child to school, about school activities, about comfort in having your child participate in infection control practices and so on. The surveys, which take just a few minutes to complete, can be found here: www.surveymonkey.com/r/N7NNV3J and www.surveymonkey.com/r/N7V72MY. The second survey asks only whether school should start on Aug. 19 or Aug. 20.

The school board will be having two special meetings, July 20 and July 27, to make decisions about the school year. Public comment won’t be taken at the meetings, so comments should be made now to the school board and the district administration.

When and how to start the new school year is a difficult discussion occurring in communities around the nation. Our district’s leaders have been doing well at keeping the community informed of the options as the usual start of the school year approaches.

Ultimately, though, the decision on what to do rests with parents: Under what circumstances will they send their children to school? That decision will be guided by so many factors and is one that parents surely wish they didn’t have to make.

The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at newsminer.com. Contact the editor with questions at letters@newsminer.com or call 459-7574.

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The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at newsminer.com. Contact the editor with questions at letters@newsminer.com or call 459-7574.

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