Petersburg School Board has been holding recent public meetings via video/teleconference. The special meeting on Monday at 5:30 p.m. will also be over Ring Central (Photo courtesy of Mara Lutomski/PSD)

How can the Petersburg School District keep students learning in-person on campus when COVID cases are spiking throughout the state? The district’s school board is considering a testing requirement for in-state travel that matches the state’s interstate testing requirements. The school board will hold a special meeting Monday to discuss the proposal. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

Four COVID cases were announced in Petersburg Tuesday. All of them are believed to be related to Petersburg residents traveling within the state. Two people had recently been to Juneau and the other two had visited Anchorage.

The Petersburg School Board discussed the topic at a work session Tuesday night along with school administrators. Erica Kludt-Painter is the Superintendent.

“I am concerned about travel within the state to be honest,” Kludt-Painter said. “I’m probably as concerned or more concerned, honestly, right now about that. The days of thinking that instate is just a breeze; I think those days are over.”

The school district does not have a travel policy of its own regarding COVID testing. It just follows the state’s mandate number 10, which requires testing for out-of-state travelers returning to town but NOT for people traveling within Alaska.

The state has been experiencing a severe spike in cases this fall. There have been over 100 new cases every day for over a month. The daily record of 526 new cases was set on Sunday, Oct. 25.

School Board member, Megan Litster, says she thinks the board should consider some kind of instrastate testing requirements.

“Right now as a district, a student could travel to a community that is in the very high risk zone with lots of community spread and they could come right back to school with no testing requirements,” said Litster.

Board member, Katie Holmlund asked if the board could have a special meeting to possibly make a decision before the next regular board meeting.

Kludt-Painter liked the idea saying she wants feedback from the board.

“I’ll definitely want your thoughts on all this and then looking at what’s going to come here in the next month and a half, two months, with Thanksgiving and Christmas and people–you know even staff and families–talking about travel and what that might look like,” Kludt-Painter said.

The state’s travel mandate requires Alaskans returning to town from out-of-state to test and stay isolated for five days. Kludt-Painter said she’d support requiring that same thing for students and staff traveling in-state.

“We might want to have the same sort of requirements as a minimum for the instrastate as well. You know, with the negative test and the minimum five days out. That’s just something to consider,” said Kludt-Painter.

Kludt-Painter says the district has asked staff members to consider not traveling for the holidays this year and a lot have already said they are choosing to stay home. Still, they do have the right to travel.

“As we all know again, every decision that we make right now can potentially have an impact on an entire school or an entire district,” said Kludt-Painter.

A federal law allows educators two weeks of COVID leave, which is paid time that can be used for quarantining after travel. That is set to end December 31.

School Board member Cheryl File asked if there were enough substitutes in the district to cover teachers who would need to quarantine. Kludt-Painter said she’s been talking to people about just that. She says the district would do all it could to accommodate staff travel but, “we don’t have a lot of subs and so we’re in a challenging time.”

Litster says she knows a travel testing requirement for staff and students might not be popular with everyone in town but it could help the schools stay open.

“Our priority is to get the school back into green, to get kids learning in-person. We know that’s best for everybody,” said Litster. “So, if we can do that little bit as a community, maybe our staff, students, and families would be willing to make that small sacrifice in order to help maintain the school in the green zone.”

The school board will continue the conversation Monday during a special meeting. The meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. and will cover only one topic—a possible testing requirement for intrastate travelers. Board members said they would like to hear public feedback about the proposal.

The state’s Emergency Declaration expires November 15 and Governor Dunleavy has not said if he will extend it. If he doesn’t, it is unclear what it would mean for the state’s COVID mandates.

The special school board meeting will be over Ring Central. The public can participate by joining in the video conference by computer or phone.