Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Clayton Holland is looking to the board of education for input on how to best revise the district’s COVID-19 close contact protocols.
Multiple parents and board members voiced their concerns about the district’s close contact policy, which they said keeps some kids out of school unnecessarily, during the board’s Sept. 13 meeting in Homer.
Among the proposals Holland floated during a work session with the board on Monday was allowing asymptomatic close contacts of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 to return to school if universal masking is in place at that school, regardless of whether or not the person identified as a close contact is vaccinated.
Other potential revisions, Holland said, include modifying how the district conducts contact tracing by moving from what he called a “sweeping” approach to a “surgical” one. KPBSD staff were among the first in the state to be trained in how to do contact tracing.
“So instead of sweeping out a class, you’re surgical with who exactly those close contacts (were) and being very tight on that,” Holland said.
Holland said, for example, that, over the last two weeks, 6% of students identified as close contacts, not counting those who are vaccinated, tested positive for COVID through testing at school or self-reporting.
In addition to offering potential revisions to the district’s policy, district administrators provided clarification about the data reflected on the district’s COVID-19 mitigation dashboard. Among other things, that dashboard shows the number of people in a school’s community who have tested positive for COVID-19 over different periods of time.
KPBSD Assistant Superintendent Kari Dendurent, for example, clarified that the dates reported on the dashboard reflect when a student or staff member reported their positive COVID-19 test result to the district, not necessarily when that person tested positive.
“This reporting is in alignment with the way the state shares data,” Dendurent said. “Because there can be day-to-day variations in the Monday through Friday dashboard updates, it is important to look at weekly seven-day trends.”
Board member Jason Tauriainen, who represents Nikiski and much of the northwestern part of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said that it is futile for the district to try and “stop COVID,” and that masking students when many people in the community are not wearing masks renders the protocol ineffective.
“We are currently doing some of the biggest, most aggressive mitigations to the least vulnerable group to COVID-19 in our community, when our community as a whole is doing nothing,” Tauriainen said.
Other board members said that the district policies continue to emphasize keeping kids in school, and that some parents are willing to have their children wear masks if it means they can stay in school.
Board President Zen Kelly said that he thinks remote learning is the district’s most aggressive mitigation strategy and that the district has not moved schools to remote learning this school year.
“Our goal is in-person schooling,” Kelly said. “When it comes to wearing masks, I don’t believe that to be an aggressive mitigation. I think that if it keeps kids in school, that it is completely appropriate.”
Student representative Neviya Reed, of Homer High School, said that the district should prioritize the safety of students and staff when considering revisions to the district’s mitigation plan.
“I think that the student safety should be our main concern at this moment and … staff safety,” Reed said.
In determining whether a school moves in or out of universal indoor masking, KPBSD uses criteria outlined in revisions to the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan announced earlier this month.
A “conversation” between district administrators and school site administrators is triggered when a school district meets four out of five criteria outlined in the plan. Factors considered include a school community positivity rate of 3% or higher, a student absenteeism rate of 25% or higher, local and regional hospital and ICU capacity, a community’s COVID-19 case count per 100,000 people and the impact of a schools staff absenteeism rate.
People can confidentially report a positive COVID-19 test for themselves or their child to their school nurse or to Nurse Miller by calling 907-260-2391 or by emailing MMiller@kpbsd.k12.ak.us.
KPBSD quarantine protocols
Unvaccinated, asymptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive must immediately quarantine. They can return to school one to two weeks after exposure once cleared by public health.
Unvaccinated, symptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive must immediately isolate. If that person tests positive, they must keep isolating. If they test negative, they must stay home while symptomatic or until finished with seven- to 14-day quarantine, whichever is longer, then talk to a health care provider and consider testing again before returning to school.
Vaccinated, asymptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive do not need to quarantine. They must get tested within three to five days of exposure, must wear a mask for 14 days and should carefully monitor for symptoms over the next two weeks.
Vaccinated, symptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive must get tested and immediately isolate. If that person tests positive, they must keep isolating. If they test negative, they must stay home while symptomatic, then talk to a health care provider and consider testing again before returning to school.
Regardless of vaccination status, symptomatic individuals with no known contact should immediately get tested and stay home. A positive test means that person must isolate for 10 days. A negative test means that person should stay home while symptomatic, then talk to a health care provider and consider testing again before returning to school.
The CDC distinguishes between quarantine and isolation. Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick, while quarantine restricts people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.
KPBSD’s full COVID-19 mitigation plan, as well as community case numbers and quarantine protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated students is available on the district’s COVID-19 website at covid19.kpbsd.org.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.