Alaska school district will require masks for grades 3-12

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will require masks or face coverings for all staff and students between third and 12th grade, District Superintendent John O'Brien announced.

Parents, visitors and volunteers will also be required to wear face coverings on school property when six feet (1.8 meters) of physical distancing is not possible, KTVA-TV reported. O’Brien announced the decision Thursday on the school district’s official Facebook page.

Students between kindergarten and second grade will not be required to wear face coverings on school property under the new policy, though the coverings are still listed as a necessary item on the borough’s school supply list.

The district said students who cannot wear face coverings for medical reasons can instead wear face shields that extend to the chin and around the sides of the face.

The new guidelines are a part of the Smart Start Plan, which has been prepared for the district's 42 schools. The plan creates protocols for low-, medium- and high-risk situations. The Smart Start Plan had mandated masks in low or lower medium risk situations before O'Brien's policy change.

O’Brien said that he developed the policy based on input form the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and from staff, parents and community members.

The district gives parents and students three choices on how they'd like to return to school. The first is to attend school in-person. The second is to conduct remote learning through a neighborhood school. The third is to do school exclusively online through the district's homeschooling program.

As of Monday, Alaska had 2,370 active cases of the coronavirus with 28 hospitalizations. 10 additional people are under investigation for having the disease, of which four are on ventilators.

The Department of Health and Social Services reported an additional 80 people tested positive for the virus on Monday. There have been a total of 25 deaths among state residents.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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This version corrects the metric conversion to 1.8 meters, not 1.2 meters.