Around 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, roughly 15 people stood at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways holding signs and glow sticks to protest remote learning for Kenai Peninsula Borough School District students. While snow fell, passing cars honked their horns in support.
The group was a small portion of people across the peninsula who have voiced their opposition to prolonged remote education for schools in the district.
At their Dec. 7 meeting, which lasted for more than seven hours, the KPBSD Board of Education responded to community concerns about remote learning by changing how schools operate while at “high-risk” level.
Instead of going 100% remote during high-risk level, pre-K through sixth grade students will be allowed to attend classes in person five days a week. Additionally, students in grades seven to 12 will be allowed to attend in-person classes on an A/B schedule. The changes to high-risk operations will become effective no later than Jan. 19.
Many parents, however, feel that these changes do not go far enough. Members of a Facebook group called “Done with DISTANCE, We need your ASSISTANCE!”, which organized Tuesday’s protest, want students in every grade level to resume on-site learning, five days a week, immediately. Some in the group have said that if KPBSD has not announced a date on which this could happen, they will stop participating in remote learning and Zoom classes beginning on Jan. 4.
Andie Bock, who is one of the administrators of the Facebook group, said at the protest Tuesday that they are also planning a gathering on Friday and Saturday to try and reach people outside of work.
“It is a workday. We just wanted to test the waters and see what we got on a workday,” Bock said. “We did it between daylight hours, so the kids were safe on the side of the road, and it wasn’t dark.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, a Change.org petition created by James and Rhonda Baisden that calls for the return of students in all grade levels to return to in-person classes immediately had received more than 700 signatures.
Rhonda Baisden, who attended the protest with her children, said she believed that KPBSD Superintendent John O’Brien is making decisions based on fear and that students are suffering as a result. Baisden also said that as a stay-at-home mom with children who are good self-learners, she has the “perfect scenario” but that remote learning has still been a struggle and 100% safety is not achievable.
“We’re jumping through all the hoops that the school district has placed upon us so that our kids get back in school and it’s still not enough,” Baisden said. “So in my mind, if they’re looking for 100% safety, it’ll never be enough, we will never be able to get 100% safe.”
It is possible for all students to return to on-site learning prior to Jan. 19 if community spread of the virus reduces such that enough cases are lost from 14-day case counts, which determine school risk levels.
As of Dec. 14, the central peninsula needed to lose 494 cases from its 14-day case count in order to drop back into medium-risk level. The southern peninsula needed to lose 79 cases and the eastern peninsula needed to lose 17 cases.
Susan B. English School, Nanwalek School and Port Graham School continue to be open for on-site learning and operate at low-risk level. Tebughna School shifted to high risk and 100% remote learning until winter break on Tuesday due to confirmation of a positive COVID-19 case in the community
Operational risk levels, case incidence rates and case numbers by community are updated daily on the district’s risk levels dashboard at covid19.kpbsd.org/dashboard.