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Petersburg School District is moving forward with a new policy that addresses what to do if a pandemic or epidemic outbreak hits the town or the school district.  KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

The school district doesn’t have a policy like this yet.

Board member Sarah Holmgrain is on the district’s policy committee. She says the timing of it has probably been influenced by the contagious coronavirus that’s been spreading throughout China and threatening other countries.

“We haven’t had this situation in Petersburg,” Holmgrain said, “but like a lot of things you’d rather have a policy in place in the event it does. Trying to figure out after the fact is never a good policy.”

The policy is recommended by the Association of Alaska’s School Boards. It identifies the health, safety, and welfare of students as the top priority.

Holmgrain says the policy committee did not want to change any of the language and likes the policy as is. The policy states that the superintendent could call for an evacuation, lock-down, or shelter-in-place if it was needed.  

Superintendent, Erica Kludt-Painter, says any kind of evacuation would be difficult in Petersburg because of space limitations. She says although the school is listed as the emergency evacuation site for the hospital there is limited other shelters where students could go.

“Location-wise we don’t have a lot of places in town that are large enough for 472 kids,” Kludt-Painter said.

In some cases, the students could be sent home. The policy states that students identified as having a communicable disease won’t be allowed in the school unless they get medical clearance. If they’re already in school they can be quarantined. Kludt-Painter says the district is set up for distance learning if students have to stay home for extended periods of time.

“We can be connected,” she said. “We have a lot of technology to be able to be connected so students can still do their work if they can. If they’re not sick.”

Kludt-Painter told the board that the district continues to have strong relationships with the Public Health Nurse in town, Erin Michael, and the Infection Control Director at Petersburg Medical Center, Liz Bacom. They keep the schools informed of possible contagious illnesses that are circulating locally.

“They really try to monitor that and give us information and we give them information,” Kludt-Painter said.

The board unanimously approved the policy in its first reading. They’ll vote on it again in their next regular meeting in March.