Homeschool numbers increase, school to provide online option


August 13, 2020

The number of students whose families are expressing interest in homeschooling climbed to 51 this week, more than triple compared to last year, as many parents were waiting for last week’s school board decision on what this school year will look like. The school is now creating an online-only option that may reduce that number.

The school district is funded in large part by a formula based on how many students are enrolled. The base rate per student is roughly $5,900 but that number changes depending on a variety of factors. The state will consider next week funding options for schools that lose enrollment due to COVID-19 concerns, school accountant Judy Erekson said.

Some families on the fence want to enroll their children in school but attend classes online. Last week it was unclear if that was an option, but superintendent Roy Getchell said this week that the school can use the Alaska Virtual School, a new program that would normally be used as a supplement to in-person classes. It will be used for students who are required to quarantine as well as those who won’t attend classes but remain enrolled.

“The virtual option...will allow students to stay at home and virtually keep up with their classmates. It is through the Alaska Virtual School, taught by our own teachers, and for this year is a great option to help manage multiple scenarios,” Getchell said.

Some parents are still unsure what that virtual option looks like. Sarah Elliott has two daughters in elementary grades. She’d prefer to enroll her children in school online and have the option to send them to school later if she feels its safe.

“I am signed up for it and I have been asked (by the school) if I need a device, but I have no idea what the virtual option is,” Elliott said. “I met with another parent who said the same. I’m optimistic and hopeful I could put them in school. I’m not comfortable with in-person (school) right now. I might be in three weeks.”

Teachers spent two days this week learning about the online platform, said principal Lilly Boron. Administrators hope to provide parents more detailed information on Friday, Aug. 14.

For the first two weeks of in-person school, students will attend classes part time to adjust to new mitigation and operational protocols. Mitigation measures include mandatory face coverings, sending students home if they have a symptom of COVID-19, and keeping them from school afterward unless they test negative or quarantine for 10 days. As long as active community cases remain low, a threshold that has yet to be determined, school will begin full-time after Labor Day. That decision will come before school board at its Sept. 1 meeting.

Heather Smith has two sons in elementary school. She said because some of her family members have risk factors associated with COVID-19, they decided earlier this summer that they’d be homeschooling.

“I’m homeschooling to err on the side of caution, but I’m open to seeing how things turn out over the course of the year,” Smith said.

Some parents are letting their children decide. Senior Wesley Verhamme said he has already made the choice to attend school, while his brother is still deciding. He said he and his friends discussed going back to school over the summer.

“We’ve had fires on the beach and had serious conversations about this,” Verhamme said. “We would respect somebody that would not go to school, but we’ve all decided we want to go to school because the biggest part about school is the social interaction and competing with each other to get better and to help each other get better. I need to be around my peers to keep me focused and to help give me a goal to reach.”

Mitigation measures put in place at the school have cost around $41,000 so far, an amount the school will bill to CARES Act funding, Getchell said. He requested $150,000 in CARES Act funding from the borough assembly last week.

“That, if it is approved, in addition to the money received early on from DEED, will help get us on track and up and running safely,” Getchell said. “The biggest costs are absolutely personnel-related like budgeting for subs, a medical care professional, etc.”


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