Wasilla Primary School canceled on Friday due to staff shortages

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WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) – The closure of Iditarod Elementary School in Wasilla was announced around 10 p.m. Thursday night, after a number of leaders, supporters and teachers had to call in due to illness.

In his 33 years as a student, Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani said Friday he had never seen anything like it.

“We had a few positive tests for COVID, but the rest are just different types of illnesses,” Trani said. “We’re used to, you know, filling them with surrogates, but the particular mix of people who got sick was really a challenge.”

The decision was ultimately made for the safety of the students. The district is willing to fill various positions with substitute teachers, but Trani said that particular mix of staff — many of whom are front desk workers — was too broad to be filled with substitutes.

Normally, the district would transition to remote learning, but since it’s only the fourth day of school, students have yet to be fully equipped with the materials they need to transition to home schooling. .

“We are just starting our one-to-one initiative, where we distribute computers to all of our third, fourth and fifth graders,” Trani said.

It’s still unclear if the elementary school will reopen Monday after Friday’s cancellation, but Trani said the district expects to make that decision by Sunday.

The closure of Iditarod Elementary comes on the heels of bus cancellations due to driver shortages, affecting daily routes and causing cancellations of buses to and from school-sponsored sporting events. The shortage comes as Durham School Services took over the transport contract with the district on Tuesday, leaving it up to parents to come up with alternatives for getting their children to school once a week.

At Wednesday’s regular school board meeting, board members like Ole Larson, who represents District 3, expressed frustration with the situation – calling on the district to hold the school service company accountable and impose fines for non-compliance with the terms of their contract.

“I’ve been on this board for a long time and I’ve never seen a situation this bad,” Larson said at the Aug. 17 meeting.

Trani agrees the bus problem is unacceptable but has already seen some improvement this week, citing 90% of all journeys were on time on Friday, a 10% increase from two days earlier. early. Trani also asked elementary school principals to call in staff volunteers to ride bus routes with students Thursday and Friday.

“As disruptive as the start was, we just felt it was really necessary to show parents that, you know, the district takes this very seriously, and we’re doing everything we can to help support Durham so that they can get up and run the way parents and the school district expect them to,” Trani said.

At Wednesday’s regular school board meeting, a parent testified that his fifth grade student with special needs got “lost” for two hours on a general education bus after school. According to the relative, she was unable to determine which bus he was on or reach anyone at the transportation dispatcher.

“6:05 p.m. my child was dropped off,” the mother said. “I had no idea where my autistic child was for over two hours.”

A total of seven parents spoke to the council during public comments to express their frustration with the extremely late buses and the lack of tracking capacity to find out where their child was.

For now, rolling closures will continue until there is no longer a shortage of drivers. Trani is planning some minor changes to scheduled routes as the school year progresses, as the district aims to smooth out the number of routes canceled on any given day. Trani expects Durham School Services to honor its contract.

“I think we have Durham’s attention, they’ve sent some senior West Coast leaders,” Trani said. “Durham is, you know, a very big business with over 14,000 buses. They have the resources, they just need to redirect them here.

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