Mask wearing to remain optional in Juneau schools

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Juneau School District will continue to make masks optional for the upcoming school year.

    Juneau Superintendent Dr. Bridget Weiss spoke to masking during the school boards meeting Tuesday night.

    "Masks will remain optional for our operations," she said. "And so I want to just to make sure that people know that going forward, one of the things that we will emphasize in our schools this year is the expectations we have around everyday operations in schools in health and safety, so we will be focusing on those. We certainly want folks to we want kids to stay home, adults to stay home, if they're sick."

    During the meeting, the school board had taken up the proposed repeal of mandatory testing for unvaccinated staff.

    "Administratively, we are recommending that you repeal this as an alternative. What we are planning to do is to stock our schools well with antigen tests. Certainly one factor here is that there is availability of antigen at home tests, and while there is access in our community, good access in our community, we also will supply our schools so that staff can access those very easily, very conveniently anytime that they choose," she said. "And we think that many will, and we can also send those home with children if a parent requests them, so we have some options as well to support families with those antigen tests."

    According to a memo, grant funds from the Department of Health and Social Services that were used to support additional staff to implement the testing has ended, and the emergency support infrastructure that existed during the last school year is no longer in place.

    The board approved the repeal in a 6-1 vote, with Board Member Emil Mackey voting no.

    "If we repeal this requirement, what tool is left in our toolbox should we get another variant or a different disease that suddenly appears to actually send the staff home? If we have that I'll feel a lot more comfortable but I have not heard what the tool in that toolbox would be for that necessity," Mackey said. "If a staff member comes to work a few weeks from now, and is exhibiting, let's just say that they are symptomatic, and they refuse to provide a test, can you send them home?"

    "Yes we can, and we would work with that individual, and we would work our way through that," Weiss said in response. "Depending on what the symptoms are, what that looks like, but in individual situations, if that were the case, we have an expectation that if you're sick, you don't come to work or you don't come to school."

    The district administration plans to continue to use other mitigation strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other contagious illnesses in schools.

    Weiss spoke to the start of school, which is on Aug. 16.

    "We will welcome 1-12 graders on Tuesday, so it's hard to believe, but we are really excited about that. We're emphasizing school registration, we had a day on Friday last week we're continuing to communicate with families to connect with us if they have not registered yet. We also will be sending out a family newsletter or a family letter from me in the next few days, letting them know all of the new information," Weiss added.

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