Dillingham students head back to school after COVID-19 shuttered classrooms for two weeks

Feb 22, 2021

Superintendent Jason Johnson said the quick return to in-person learning shows the mitigation strategies of the school and community are working. That also opens the possibility to keep students in the classroom throughout the year — even if someone at the school is exposed to COVID-19.

A sign in the Dillingham Middle/High School. Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.
Credit Izzy Ross/KDLG

Dillingham’s schools are open to in-person classes today. This follows a two and a half week stint of remote learning, after people at school were potentially exposed to COVID-19.

Superintendent Jason Johnson said the district based its decision to hold in-person classes on discussions with the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation and on its COVID-19 mitigation plan developed last summer.

“In reviewing that plan with the health corporation throughout the week, the case numbers have dropped to a point to where it made sense to have our students back,” he said.

Since the beginning of the month, 19 Dillingham residents have tested positive for COVID-19. That’s the most resident cases the community has seen in a two-week period since the pandemic began.

But the results of a mass testing event for students and staff of the schools showed only two out of roughly 350 people tested positive for the disease.

Johnson said this shows the mitigation strategies of the school and the community are working. That success also opens the possibility to keep students in the classroom throughout the year — even if someone at the school is exposed to COVID-19.

“I think there’s an opportunity that we could do a different type of a closure, like a more targeted closure, to where maybe only a classroom or one building may be closed, and that the district could still continue to operate even if there were to be a positive case on site,” he said.

The pandemic has been difficult for many people in education — from parents to teachers and students. When asked what he looked forward to the most this week, Johnson didn’t hesitate:

“Just excitement. Teachers work in education because they want to be around kids," he said. "We feel strongly that this is the best place for our kids, and we do not believe that virtual education is a great option for most of our students.”

Dillingham’s schools have bounced in and out of in-person learning this year. They opened for two months in the fall before they switched to remote learning in mid-November due to a rise in cases. In January, the schools returned to in-person classes for just over two weeks before the most recent closure.

Heading into the spring, Johnson said, the district will continue to work with the health corporation, and hopes to have students in the buildings much more frequently throughout the year.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.