The school district has enrolled or de-enrolled 225 students between Sept. 3 and Monday. Of those, 104 entered the system and 121 exited, according to an email from Yumi McCulloch, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District director of public relations.
The unofficial enrollment number so far this year is 12,374 students, McCulloch said. That’s about 500 students higher than what was projected last spring. The official student count takes place next month.
The mask issue has been a flashpoint for some parents who wrote and testified to education leaders that they would enroll or de-enroll their children based on the policy. The 2021-2022 academic year began on Aug. 18 with masks optional, and last week the Board of Education switched to mandatory face masks starting Monday as Covid-19 surges in Alaska.
Education leaders said the new masking policy seems to be going OK so far.
Public education officials don’t ask why students come and go so it’s hard to know how many were pulled out of school or enrolled due to the masking policy, according to McCulloch.
“There are numerous reasons students are enrolled or withdraw from the any school district throughout the school year. Families moving out of the area, military PCS (permanent change of station), family dynamics changes, etc. effect family enrollment decisions. The FNSB school district does not require a family to indicate the reason for enrolling or withdrawing,” reads a prepared statement provided by McCulloch.
School board President Tim Doran said he thinks students will tolerate the new policy because they want to be in school.
“Students handled it really well last semester,” Doran wrote in a text message. “I expect it to be similar this semester.”
School board member April Smith said she knows families who oppose mandatory masking of school children but are keeping their children enrolled in the school district for now with hopes new leaders are elected next month who reverse the policy.
“I see and hear people dealing with it in hopes of a change on the board at the Oct. 5 election. In the classrooms, it’s going fine to my knowledge,” the mother of eight said in a text message.
The district’s Covid-19 information dashboard shows as of Tuesday afternoon that 454 students and staff have reported a positive virus test to the school district, which is offering free testing this year.
Last year, when free district-provided testing was not available, the total case count for the year was 419.
Since Aug. 31, at least five classrooms, a high school freshman class and two schools have adopted heightened protocols aimed at reducing virus transmission.
High schools tend to have more cases than middle schools and elementary schools, according to the dashboard. Eight of 36 schools have reported no Covid-19 cases over the last seven days.
The highest case count is currently at the North Pole High School with 22 cases over the last seven days followed by Lathrop High School with 14 cases over the last sevens days as of Tuesday afternoon.