Anchorage school district to make masks optional in new year

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s largest school district is dropping its requirement that students and staff wear face masks in school buildings, starting next month, in response to lower COVID-19 case numbers, Superintendent Deena Bishop said.

The change in policy for the Anchorage School District comes after the Anchorage Assembly lifted its indoor mask mandate earlier this month, Alaska Public Media reported.

“We do a lot of tests, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tests a week, and our positivity rate is low,” Bishop said.

Under the district’s new policy, masking will be optional for students, teachers and staff, starting Jan. 3.

Bishop cited testing rates, current case counts and the availability of COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 5.

Since the start of this school term, there haven’t been any widespread COVID-19 outbreaks or closures of entire schools in the district, she said.

“What we’ve done as a district has set us up for success,” Bishop said.

Corey Aist, president of the Anchorage Education Association teachers union, said he thinks the success of keeping schools open has been due to universal face mask wearing. Making masks optional “feels a little premature,” he said.

Aist said the district should wait to see what COVID-19 case numbers look like after the holiday break before making changes to the policy.

Bishop said students still must wear masks on buses in line with federal rules.