Cordova school board votes to make masking optional

Clockwise, from top, Mt. Eccles Elementary School students Finn O’Toole, Andrew Bellefeuille, Elizabeth Baenen and Giannaleah Gullet compete in the Battle of the Books reading program. (Feb. 9, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Masking in Cordova’s public schools will be optional starting in 2022, under updated guidelines unanimously approved by the school board, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread for a third year in Alaska.

The Cordova School Board voted Dec. 8 to adjust its universal making requirement as part of its mitigation plan at the start of the new semester on Jan. 3.

Masking will be optional in the schools, including the district’s some 335 students, “but if we have a serious outbreak, we may pull back on that,” Superintendent Alex Russin said. The community’s medical response team will provide the school district with guidelines.

Under the updated measures approved, the school district and medical personnel will continue to work together to consider if it is advisable to keep in place 2021 steps to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus variants in school buildings after school hours when community members are present for sports events, concerts, club meetings and other gatherings.

No changes were made regarding physical distancing, food service and school meals, screening, ventilation, handwashing, school visitors, cleaning and disinfecting, and school transportation.

The city’s medical response team recommended in a Nov. 29 letter to the board of education that the school district continue with its primary mitigation strategy of physical distancing to the extent possible, handwashing and cleaning protocols, while encouraging parents to keep students home with any symptoms of viral illness. The medical response team also recommended students and family members be tested for infectious illnesses when symptomatic to prevent the spread of such illnesses.

The consensus of the medical response team is that universal mask practices may be lessened in school settings in January, as a number of families have chosen to vaccinate their children who are at least five years old.

Should the local COVID-19 alert be moved to red alert level, universal masking would again be recommended, the medical response team said.