Home » Ketchikan school board set to hear pandemic update as COVID-19 outbreak shutters two schools

Ketchikan school board set to hear pandemic update as COVID-19 outbreak shutters two schools

Ketchikan’s school board is set to hear an update on the school district’s response to the community’s largest COVID-19 outbreak to date Wednesday. That’s after Ketchikan pandemic response officials raised Ketchikan’s risk level to its highest mark — Level 4, or “very high,” for the first time since the pandemic began.

School district officials said in a statement Tuesday that Houghtaling Elementary will close for at least the rest of the week “due to the number of positive cases, the need to quarantine staff, and to provide time for additional contact tracing.” The district says it’ll reevaluate the decision later this week.

Schoenbar Middle School will also go remote for the rest of the week “to assist with contact tracing of newly identified positive cases,” the district said, and resume at half capacity on Monday.

Revilla Junior-Senior High School will transition to half capacity on Wednesday. And Ketchikan High School will remain at 50% capacity until further notice. All of the district’s other schools will remain open, but after-school and extracurricular activities are postponed indefinitely.

Acting Ketchikan school district superintendent Katie Parrott asked community members to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before going to work or school.

“We have a very limited window of time to bring our community risk level down in order for our students to enjoy the end-of-the-year activities they so enjoy and look forward to each year,” Parrott said. She also encouraged community members to “get vaccinated if you have not already.”

With the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine now authorized for those 12 and over, Ketchikan High School will host a vaccine and testing clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. No appointment is required.

Ketchikan’s school board voted earlier this month to forgo a district-wide COVID-19 strategy in favor of a more targeted approach. As Parrott told Ketchikan’s school board last week, that allows district administrators to decide whether to close or reduce capacity at individual schools.

“Our community has really asked us to prioritize as much on site instruction as possible and to take a look at adjustments we can make that might be more localized decision making,” Parrott said last week.

Ketchikan High School has seen a surge of COVID-19 among students and staff since health officials say five infected people attended a regional wrestling tournament. The school district says it’s investigating the incident. After the school was closed for most of last week, it reopened at half- capacity Monday.

But Schoenbar Middle School and Revilla Junior-Senior High School, which would normally cut back attendance during an outbreak, had remained fully open.

One thing that’s not on the agenda is replacing school district superintendent Beth Lougee, who resigned last month. Parrott, the district’s business manager, is filling in on an acting basis while the district searches for a temporary top administrator.

Applications for the interim job — which is set to run through June of 2022 as the board searches for a more permanent superintendent — closed on Friday.

A hiring committee with representatives from the school board, labor unions, and Ketchikan’s tribe is set to deliver its recommendation for the interim school district head by May 19. But it’s unclear whether the school board will discuss its progress.

Ketchikan’s school board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday by videoconference. The meeting is broadcast on local cable channels and live-streamed at the borough’s website. Public comment will be heard at the beginning of the meeting — to weigh in, call the board clerk before 3 p.m. Wednesday at 247-2142 or by email.

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Zaraki Kenpachi