By Melinda Munson

“This is a way to get the conversion started,” said Skagway City School Superintendent Josh Coughran as he presented the district’s “2020-2021 Smart Start to School Coronavirus Response Plan” on June 30. 

The School Board declined to pass the proposed mitigation plan and instead voted to create an ad-hoc committee to discuss the issue further.

At the School Board work session, followed by a regular board meeting, many parents and teachers praised the plan but had questions. 

“This is not a prevention plan. This is a mitigation plan,” Coughran said. He described the document as “one of the least restrictive plans that’s being created in Alaska right now.”

The plan is based off of three color zones representing the level of risk as defined by the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services. Coughran stressed that it is possible to move between zones quickly.

Green (low risk) means there are no new confirmed coronavirus cases over the last 14 days. Skagway is currently in the green zone with zero confirmed cases of COVID-19. While in the green zone, masks are encouraged but students may decide if they wear a face covering if social distancing is possible.

The school will move to the yellow (medium risk) zone if there are a small number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. At this point, masks would be required.

In the event of an outbreak, Skagway School would enter the red zone (high risk) and switch to online learning.

While in the green and yellow zones, parents have the choice to send their child to school, or participate in online learning.

“I’m just really grateful that families have options, that nobody is being forced to do anything that they aren’t comfortable with,” said Mary Thole, elementary teacher. “We will do our best to support families in whatever choices that they make.”

School is scheduled to start on August 27, five days later than originally planned. The first five days of each semester will be in-service days, giving teachers an opportunity to prepare for online teaching. The ten lost student instruction days will not be made up.

It’s not just masks that will make this school year different. Desks will be placed six feet apart. There will be no parties with shared food. Lunches will take place in the classroom and recess will occur in shifts with less than 30 students on the playground. 

Where possible, students wil remain in their classrooms and teachers for specialized subjects will come to them. Staff and students must have their temperatures checked upon arrival. Anyone with a temperature of 100.3 or above will be asked to leave and urged to consult with Dahl Memorial Clinic. Parents are encouraged to drop their students at the door. If the school enters the yellow zone, parents may not enter the school without prior approval.

The Coronavirus Response Plan reads: “Access to the school building will be much more tightly controlled than ever before … Beyond the necessities, building access will be limited to essential functions only.”

“It pained me to write that sentence … this is the heart of our community,” Coughran said.

“It’s not going to be the atmosphere that I’ve seen in the last 20 years.”

Travel for sports will continue but will be kept to the minimum ASAA Region V requirements. Skagway School will not host large events such as the Boyd Worley Basketball Tournament.

The meeting ended with comments by Jaime Bricker, school board vice president. She shared her concern for the lack of structure children are experiencing without school; citing sleep, exercise and mental health issues.

“I understand that COVID is an enormous health concern, but it is not the only health concern for our kids,” she said.

The new ad-hoc committee will meet July 22 at 6 p.m. The next School Board meeting is July 28 at 7 p.m. Read Skagway School’s draft mitigation plan at: