COVID concerns have pushed the Kodiak Island Borough School District to switch to remote learning in all town schools and at Ouzinkie School.

The town schools will remain remote the rest of the week, with the plan to return to in-person classes on Jan. 18, according to an announcement made on the KIBSD’s Facebook page. In addition to that, Ouzinkie School — which started teaching remotely on Friday — will remain remote until Jan. 24, according to the Kodiak Island Borough School District website. 

The decision to move town schools into remote learning came after almost 300 students and staff members in the district either entered isolation with the virus or quarantine as a close contact, Superintendent Larry LeDoux wrote in the Facebook post announcing the change. That same day, the Emergency Operations Center announced that there were 711 known, active cases of COVID on the island. 

“There comes a point when, despite our strongest desire and exceptional efforts to remain open to in-person learning, we must make the difficult decision to transition to remote learning to ensure the health and safety of our students, staff, and our community,” LeDoux wrote in the post.

LeDoux cited a severe staff shortage across the district as one of the factors in the decision to move town schools to remote areas. As of Wednesday, more than 60 staff members were absent across the district, according to the post. Maintenance and custodial crews have been working with three or fewer people and there are only 12 substitute teachers available in the entire district, LeDoux said through Facebook.

Of the almost 300 people in the district who are in quarantine or isolation, 145 are either students or staff at Kodiak High School, according to the post. Last week, Kodiak High School moved its classes online from Jan. 5 to Jan. 7 after a COVID outbreak caused more than 50 students and faculty members to contract the virus. On Monday, KHS switched back to in-person classes.

In Ouzinkie, the decision to switch to remote-learning was made after eight people in the village — around 5% of its population, based on 2020c ensus data — tested positive for COVID, according to Director of Rural Schools Peggy Azuyak. Although no students, teachers or staff members at the school have tested positive for the virus, the Ouzinkie Advisory School Board felt that this was a necessary precaution, according to Azuyak. 

“When COVID does show up in the community, our sites are being very careful,” Azuyak said. “[We are] using our mitigation plans to help keep the students safe, and keep the teachers and staff safe. We’ve been very fortunate so far [that none of them have gotten COVID] and we just hope that that continues.”

In addition to Ouzinkie, there are some known, active COVID cases in Chiniak and Port Lions, however, neither the Chiniak School nor the Port Lions School have moved to remote learning. Azuyak, who “completely supports” the Ouzinkie Advisory School Board’s decision to move classes online, does not believe that Chiniak and Port Lions should necessarily make the same move. 

“Each community is very different,” Azuyak said. “Some communities like Ouzinkie have fairly stable internet throughout the community in the homes, so the students are able to connect virtually with their teachers while remote learning … but it’s different in other communities.”

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 3,614 known COVID cases, the Emergency Operations Center reported Monday. Since Monday, two people were hospitalized for reasons associated with COVID-19, bringing the total number of hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic to 106 as of Wednesday, according to the EOC. One person is hospitalized for reasons associated with COVID as of Wednesday. Nine people on the island have died due to reasons associated with COVID.

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