All central peninsula schools shifted 100% remote learning Wednesday

Spike in COVID-19 cases on central peninsula led to school district decision

All central peninsula schools shifted to 100% remote learning starting Wednesday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District announced Tuesday. Pre-K, kindergarten and special education and intensive needs students may still attend school in person.

Transportation for Pre-K, kindergarten and special education and intensive needs students will not be available Wednesday, but will resume Thursday, District Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said via email.

The shift comes after the state reported 14 new COVID-19 cases on the central peninsula Tuesday, including six in Soldotna, five in Kenai, two in Sterling and one in “other north.” The addition of the new cases raised the region’s 14-day cases total to 59, bumping it into the high-risk category.

The central peninsula is considered high risk when there are more than 52 cases in the last two weeks, medium risk when there are 51 to 26 cases reported in the last two weeks and low risk when there are 25 or fewer cases in the last two weeks.

At high-risk levels, buildings are closed to students and learning is 100% remote.

Additionally, the district said it has already placed more than 63 staff and students in isolation or in a 14-day quarantine between Nikiski Middle-High School, Nikiski North Star Elementary School, Redoubt Elementary School and Skyview Middle School.

Skyview Middle School and Nikiski North Star Elementary reported one positive COVID-19 case each on Monday. Erkeneff said that contact tracing was completed the same evening and that close contacts had been told to quarantine. Both schools were open for on-site learning Tuesday.

“By shifting to 100% Remote Learning during periods of high community spread, we lessen the number of large groups of people in one location,” District Superintendent John O’Brien is quoted as saying in the announcement. “Even with our mitigation plans, we have seen an exponential growth of positive cases in our schools this past week.”

The district first warned central peninsula families Monday about the possibility of shifting to 100% learning, saying it would be likely if cases continued to increase.

In deciding whether or not a region will move from medium- to high-risk level, the district said it doesn’t just look at case counts. In addition to the 14-day case numbers, seven-day positivity trends and recommendations from the district’s medical advisory team and local medical providers are considered.

Eastern peninsula schools are also currently operating at high-risk levels, which they have been doing since Oct. 9.

The eastern peninsula’s 14-day case total reached nine on Oct. 7, which should have pushed the school from medium to high risk, as the cutoff between the two levels is eight. However, the district ultimately decided that because none of the new cases reported on that day were connected to the school, they did not need to operate at a high-risk level. The district reversed this decision late on Oct. 8 after it was found that one of the new cases was connected to a Seward-area school. The schools went remote the next day.

In instances where contact tracing is completed quickly, school operations have been minimally disrupted, for example, Skyview Middle School and Nikiski North Star Elementary School.

When schools operate 100% remotely in high-risk levels, “Get-It and Go Meals” are free for all students and can be picked up at school daily between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. Meals will not be available on Oct. 16 due to it being an inservice day for staff.

Schools affected by the shift include Aurora Borealis Charter School, Kaleidoscope Charter School, K-Beach Elementary School, Kenai Alternative School, Kenai Central High School, Kenai Middle School, Mountain View Elementary School, Nikiski Middle-High School, Nikiski North Star Elementary School, Redoubt Elementary School, River City Academy, Skyview Middle School, Soldotna Elementary School, Soldotna High School, Soldotna Montessori Charter School, Sterling Elementary School and Tustumena Elementary School.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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