ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Anchorage School District has delayed a plan to phase students back into classrooms because of the ongoing increase in coronavirus cases in the community.

Superintendent Deena Bishop announced Sunday that the district indefinitely postponed the start of in-person schooling for younger and higher-needs special education students that was scheduled to start on Nov. 16.

Bishop wrote emails to parents and staff citing the increasing spread of the coronavirus and rising demands on the health care system in Alaska’s largest city.

“The conditions across Anchorage are currently threatening to push the community’s medical capacity beyond its limits, as reflected on our COVID-19 decision monitoring,” Bishop wrote. “Additionally, the increasing number of close contacts has the potential to significantly reduce ASD’s ability to staff schools with predictability.”

Bishop did not provide a date for possible resumption of in-person learning, but said she plans to issue an update Nov. 15 with information on additional student support services.

“ASD remains steadfast on getting its students back into schools and will continue its plans to do so when conditions allow,” Bishop wrote.


Sunday’s announcement marks the third time the district has announced plans to phase students back into classrooms and then postponed, with previous delays at the beginning of the school year and again in October.

Anchorage School Board president Elisa Vakalis said she understood the decision, but was frustrated that public schools cannot resume in-person learning while private schools and day care facilities can do so and restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses remain open.

“In this moment, it is our public school kids that are suffering,” Vakalis said.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Alaska has surged in recent weeks. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Saturday reported that the state hit a daily record in newly confirmed coronavirus cases.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.