Yakutat High School in 2017. The district’s Smart Start Plan for the 2020-2021 school year is divided into three different categories: low, medium and high-risk. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

Around 100 students in the Yakutat School District went back to school Tuesday (Sept. 8). After a cluster of cases in late July, the community now has no active cases of the coronavirus, according to local officials. Students will attend classes in-person four days a week, unless they opt for virtual schooling. KCAW’s Erin McKinstry spoke with Yakutat School District’s new superintendent Patricia Hutcherson about the district’s Smart Start plan for the upcoming school year.

KCAW: If you wouldn’t mind just talking a little bit about how the district went about making this plan. What was the process like? How did you get input? How did you formulate it? That sort of thing.

PH: In May, I was invited to participate in a webinar for reopening schools. And it was a seven week–six or seven-week long webinar series. And so, we had information presented to us by the presenters as well as Dr. Zink and other people from CDC on how to safely re-open the schools. From those series, the superintendent who was still here at the time had created a committee made up of teachers and parents and one board member. And as a committee, we met each week to go over the things that we had learned as well as looking at the schools, looking at all the information. Thinking about the parents and what they wanted for their children. And what I wanted for the staff. And so with that, we started to create the document.

KCAW: Another thing I was wondering about is how the different risk environments are related to how many cases there are in the community. Have you talked about what those numbers actually look like? How many numbers of cases would you have to have for it to be high versus moderate versus low?

PH: Well, I will say that when we started working on the plan in May, we had no cases. We had no cases in June. We had no cases the first couple of weeks of July and then all of the sudden, we had six confirmed cases. And so if I had been opening schools in the first or second week of August, I would’ve been in discussion with the board, the city, the incident commander here and the clinic to discuss whether or not we should open the school because we had those six confirmed cases.

KCAW: I would love to know a little bit about what the response has been to the plan. Maybe starting with teachers, what’s been their response since this was released?

PH: My school is very small. The teachers–I have seven certificated teachers. They had input into helping create the document. And I continue to ask folks if they have any concerns to let us know. Or if they have any questions to let us know so that those questions and things can be addressed. This is a work in progress. When we open the school and find out that something isn’t working well or not working the way that we had stated on the document, then we change it. So, again the focus is on making sure teachers and students are safe while they are in the building.

You can find a link to the district’s full Smart Start Plan on their website. More information about district plans statewide can be found on the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s website. Erin McKinstry is a Report for America corps member.