Anchorage School Board keeps mask requirement until Jan. 15

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Anchorage School Board has reversed the superintendent’s decision to make masking optional when students return from winter break and will instead keep the current mask policy in place until at least Jan. 15.

Six board members voted to keep the mask policy, while one voted against it.

Board members cited the rapid rise of the omicron variant of COVID-19 for the move.

Andy Holleman, the member who proposed the motion, said he would be happy to get rid of the masking requirement if low virus transmission trends continued. But he said it was important that the school district have enough mitigation measures in place when students return on Jan. 3.

“This lets everybody continue doing what we’ve been doing, and what we’ve been doing very well,” Holleman said. “And then it gives us enough weeks after break to see if we’ve got a problem on our hands or not.”

Much about the omicron coronavirus variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Scientists say omicron spreads even easier than other coronavirus strains, including delta. It’s already the dominant variant in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week.

A dozen teachers and staff testified at Monday’s school board meeting. All but one opposed optional masking.

Superintendent Deena Bishop announced last week that masks would be optional in the school district starting Jan. 3. In a letter to parents, she cited low transmission rates in the school district and the municipality. Bishop also said at the time that the situation would be reevaluated if transmission rates rose again, and that if that happened masks could be required again.