By Melinda Munson

The Skagway School Board voted Aug. 4 to implement the 2020-2021 Smart Start to School Coronavirus Plan, declining the ad hoc committee’s suggestion that students wear face masks at all times except lunch. 

In a vote of four to one with board president John Hischer voting against the mitigation plan, the document looked much the same as the original version presented June 30. While in the green zone (no COVID-19 cases), students are required to wear face coverings when social distancing is not possible. When six feet of distance can be maintained, students may choose to remove their masks. 

Should the school move to the yellow zone (minimal COVID-19 cases), masks would be mandatory. According to the smart start plan, “anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face coverings without assistance” is exempt from the mask policy.

The final draft was a relief to parent Valerie Spurlock. 

“While we’re in green, it’s not healthy or sensible to wear masks all day,” she said.

Language about discipline was removed as was the no-travel policy, with trips left up to the discretion of Superintendent Josh Coughran. 

Parents are encouraged to leave their children at the health screening checkpoints instead of escorting them to class. Visitors must wear a mask at all times and undergo a temperature check. Anyone with a temperature of 100.3 or above would be rechecked then sent home. Lunch will be eaten in the classroom and recess will have no more than 30 students.

School board vice president Jaime Bricker suggested that classes start in the yellow zone as an “extra safety measure” with the possibility of easing back to the green zone if all goes well.

Coughran announced Aug. 4 that as long as there continues to be no COVID-19 cases in Skagway, school will start in the green zone.

“I felt it would have been confusing to start somewhere we’re not,” Coughran said about his decision to open school in the green.

Parents have the option of sendinging their child to in-person classes, signing up with Alaska Statewide Virtual School — an online platform provided by the state which will provide some interaction with a child’s local teacher — or pursuing home school options. The average number of children enrolled at Skagway School in a four week period from late September to late October will determine how much funding the school receives from the state. Those enrolled in the virtual school will count as Skagway students, those who choose home school options will not.

“I hope you give the Skagway School District the opportunity to deliver that curriculum,” Coughran said.

Hischer, the lone vote against the smart start plan, would have preferred a more conservative approach.

“I’m always going to err on the side of caution when it comes to student safety,” he said.

Despite his disappointment, Hischer reminded parents to be civil.

“Don’t be careless with your words when you disagree. When all is said and done it’s going to be the relationships that we have here that get us through this,” Hischer said. 

Skagway School asks that parents email the office ( or call 907-983-2960 to indicate which option they will pursue for fall quarter. High school students who enroll in virtual school should complete the quarter online. Middle schoolers and elementary aged children may have more flexibility to return to in-person class prior to quarter end.

“We’re going to work with students,” Coughran said, indicating the school will be as flexible as they can while still following state guidelines.

“This is a deeply personal choice for all families … Parents should feel no pressure to defend themselves one way or another,” Coughran said.