Educators Testified at the Anchorage School Board Meeting

I wasn’t going to write tonight, I swear.

If you watch or listen to the Anchorage School District Board Meeting, you can hear the tension and frustration in teachers’ voices who testified about their concerns at the School Board meeting held virtually on September 22.

Ben Elbow testified on Tuesday, just one of many teachers who spoke at the Anchorage School Board meeting as the return to school date of October 19 approaches.

Elbow, a parent of two elementary school children and who has also been an elementary school teacher for the past nineteen years, began his testimony by saying, “I know a slippery slope when I see one, and just as importantly I know the dangers of a slippery slope.”

Mr. Elbow focused on what he sees as the “real danger” to students. Lunchtime.

“We’re saying it’s safe to have twenty plus little kids eating three feet apart from each other un-masked for thirty minutes a day, five days a week, week after week? I doubt that any of you would feel comfortable doing that yourselves,” he told the School Board.

Elbow told the School Board that he doesn’t “peddle in conspiracy theories” and gets his news from reputable news sources, including the Anchorage Daily News.

Referring to CDC guidelines that the Anchorage School District is using to return students to the classroom, Elbow appeared skeptical, saying, “It’s hard for me to have complete faith in the recent CDC guidelines regarding schools reopening when we know some of those same guidelines have been co-opted by DC politics. If it is these guidelines upon which we’re basing our new reopening plan, then I’m skeptical.”

Anchorage teacher and parent Andrea Gardner also testified, expressing her concerns, saying, “I am gravely concerned about our ability to return safely to the classroom. I find it disturbing that ASD’s amended safety guidelines are less stringent than those required in other areas of our community,” making the argument that if it’s too dangerous to testify in person, then returning to the classrooms is equally as dangerous.

Another Anchorage educator expressed concern at reducing social distancing requirements in classrooms from six feet to three feet.

Yet another Anchorage teacher railed against the ASD virtual program, calling it a “haphazard program,” and a “fire-laden boat” pleading with the school board to, “fix it.”

Anchorage parent Jennifer Redmond also gave testimony before the School Board and said, “I am strongly opposed to a decision to bring back children into schools in October based on criteria that has changed this semester. I do not believe that when the Municipality of Anchorage is currently in high-alert that it is time to bring children back into school.”

One Anchorage teacher used part of her speaking time to ask the School Board who was going to be responsible for escorting children to the bathrooms since they will need escorts under the mitigation plan.

For anyone watching or listening to the meeting, it became clear that teachers and parents had legitimate concerns about social distancing, mask wearing, school ventilation, CDC guidelines, and the availability of PPE.

My takeaway from the School Board meeting?

Anchorage City School District has a long way to go before they gain the trust of teachers, staff and residents in their quest to return students to the classroom in an age where, for the first time in history, a global pandemic has been politicized to the point of people not knowing who they can trust.

Having Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink involved in the process is great, but it’s up to ASD to implement the COVID-19 strategy.

ASD needs to communicate honestly, openly and clearly with our city and lead us with science, facts and compassion as they ask us to subject our children and thus one another to their plan.