Classes for the 48,000 students in the Anchorage (Alaska) district will be closed this week while workers cope with widespread facility damage from last week's earthquake.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that each school in the district sustained some kind of damage—from scattered books and teaching materials to ceilings reduced to rubble.
“There’s a whole lot of mess to clean up,” says school superintendent Deena Bishop as she toured Bartlett High School.
The first day back for all students — either in their home school or at an alternative site — will be Monday, Dec. 10.
“I’m committed to getting our schools up and running again,” Bishop says. “But we want our kids in safe and functional classrooms.”
District staff and contractors are still going through Anchorage's 92 school buildings and facilities—7.8 million square feet and 4,000 separate teaching spaces—to determine the extent of damage and needed repairs.
School sites will be tagged as green, amber or red, denoting how safe the school is to enter, and district officials will inform principals when their schools are cleared and when staff will be permitted to enter facilities.
Some limited numbers of students will be allowed back inside schools with escorts to get essential items left inside after the quake, such as medicines.
Bartlett High is one of the schools hardest hit by the quake. Broken ceiling tiles were heaped in the hall, and air vents dangled from the ceiling.
So many ceiling tiles came down in Anchorage schools that “there aren’t enough ceiling tiles in Alaska” to replace them all right now, Bishop says.
The decision to close schools for an entire week wasn’t made lightly. Bishop says she initially planned to close schools until Wednesday, buty it became clear that teachers would need more time to clean up and organize their classrooms.
No decision has been made yet about how lost instructional time will be made up. By state statute, the school year must be 170 days long, and the Anchorage calendar has 172 student-attended school days built in.
The state has indicated it will work with the district on schedule adjustments.
On Sunday, the Mat-Su Borough School District said most of its schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday.
The University of Alaska’s Anchorage and Chugiak-Eagle River campuses are closed Monday and Tuesday, and plan to reopen Wednesday.
MORE. The Anchorage district recorded video of the earthquake damage at some of its schools (YouTube):