Members of the local teachers’ union met on Oct. 24 and voted that students should remain in remote learning while the school district is in the operational high risk zone for COVID-19, according to the president of the Fairbanks Education Association.

The union represents about 900 teachers who work for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

The decision comes after the Board of Education asked the district administration to explore ways to get students back in school for the third quarter, which starts in January.

The 2020-2021 school year started off in remote learning status. About 10,000 students have been receiving public education services online since Aug. 20. The district went into the operational high risk zone on Aug. 31 after the average number of new daily virus cases in the borough exceeded 10. Now it exceeds 30.

Tim Doran, the new school board president, said more than 1,200 high-needs students have been invited to school buildings for supervised online learning. High school athletes are also receiving limited services at school buildings. Free lunches are being handed out from schools to any enrolled student.

The meeting of the FEA Policy Assembly took place via the online platform Zoom, union President Sandi Ryan said in an email.

Ryan said teachers approved a motion stating that the union “does not support returning to full in-person learning while the borough remains in the red zone.”

She did not answer questions from the News-Miner about why teachers feel staying in remote learning is in the best interest of students.

“FEA will continue to work with FNSBSD to make sure our members’ voices and concerns are heard, and we look forward to continued collaboration with FNSBSD to find workable solutions for a return to safe in-person learning,” Ryan wrote.

With a total of 82 virus deaths, Alaska has one of the lowest COVID-19 fatality rates in the nation. The Interior has recorded 18 deaths since March.

As of Saturday, a state online data hub reported that no one in Interior Alaska is currently hospitalized with COVID-19; however, the daily case count has been rising and a hospital official said the virus is widespread.

The number of new resident cases reported for Interior Alaska for Friday was 44 plus one additional nonresident case, according to the state virus data website update on Saturday.

In the Fairbanks borough, the 14-day average of new daily cases was noted on the state website as 32.8 cases. Under the school district’s risk assessment matrix, more than 10 new cases daily merits being in the operational high risk zone.

The number of virus cases among students and staff at the school district has also been rising and was 81 cases as of Friday, according to the school district’s online data hub. One school, Ben Eielson Junior/Senior High School, is closed until Tuesday due to a cluster of cases.

Doran said the school board will discuss options for how to conduct public education during the third quarter in mid-November.

“We have to decide what is going to happen after Christmas,” he said.

Karen Gaborik, district superintendent, is booked as the speaker at the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce’s online lunch hour presentation on Tuesday. The title of the talk is “The State of Our Schools.”

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.

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