The Anchorage schools superintendent said Monday the district is expanding virus testing and released more details on expected COVID-19 vaccine clinics targeted for children ages 5 to 11, but said the vaccines are optional and won’t be required for students to attend school.
The district has more than 21,000 children in the 5- to 11-year-old age group and is expected to offer evening and weekend clinics at the district’s Education Building and high schools in order to make the shots more convenient for families, Superintendent Deena Bishop said in a letter to families.
A vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 has cleared several regulatory hurdles but still needs a final sign-off from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is expected Tuesday. The program is supposed to be operational by Nov. 8 according to White House officials, the Washington Post reported Monday.
“We are ready this week,” Bishop said. “If the vaccine approvals go through, I foresee very very shortly within the week we can start to get the word out and share with our parents.”
The clinics are not meant to convince anyone one way or another, Bishop said, who instead characterized them as a service. The inoculations are optional and dependent on parental consent.
“The vaccine, in the foreseeable future for me, is not going to be a requirement for school,” Bishop said.
The clinics are also open to people seeking a booster shot and others who are not Anchorage School District students. No one will be turned away, Bishop said.
The school district is also contracting with a private local lab, Beechtree Diagnostics, to expand COVID-19 testing into school nurse’s offices districtwide for symptomatic students this week.
Prior to the change, the district was using a mix of drive-up testing and rapid testing. But several students were missing school as they waiting on test results and rapid testing supplies were hard to come by, Bishop said.
The district piloted the program with eight high schools and performed about 500 tests by school nurses in the first week, turning around tests in four to 12 hours, Bishop said.
The school district is now taking the program districtwide, and allowing students, with parent permission, to get tested in the nurse’s office rather than getting tested at a doctor’s office or local clinic.
“We just want to be sure that if there’s a symptom that we can rule out COVID and have kids come back to school if they’re feeling good,” Bishop said.
The district is also preparing for the possibility of additional bus route suspensions.
Bishop said that two more groups could have their bus routes suspended, in addition to four other cohorts that have had three-week suspensions during the school year. If driver shortages continue, despite recruitment efforts and hiring bonuses, one cohort may have buses suspended from Nov. 22 to Dec. 10 and another could have buses suspended from Dec. 13 to Jan 7.
“We started making calls to individual families that could be affected by this,” Bishop said.