Why I voted against mandatory masks for Anchorage students
By Dave Donley Published in AND August 4, 2021
The two school districts geographically contiguous to the Anchorage School District, Kenai and Mat-Su, have rejected mandatory masking of students for the coming school year. At the Aug. 3 meeting of the Anchorage School Board, Superintendent Deena Bishop presented her plan for Anchorage schools this fall. It included changing from the completely successful Summer School policy of parent-choice optional masking to essentially full-time mandatory masking of every child while in a school district building. Some case-by-case exceptions will be allowed. Students will not be forced to wear masks while actively doing sports. No longer will parents have the option to choose this health decision for their children. The School Board could have rejected mandatory masking at the Aug. 3 meeting, but my three amendments against it all failed without being seconded. Those were essentially 6-1 votes in favor of no parental choice and mandatory masking.
The Board received hundreds of messages specifically on the masking issue both in support and opposed to mandatory masking. On the night of the meeting, my count was about 20 people testified in support and almost 50 against.
The primary expressed justifications for mandatory masking were support from the American Association of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control; the increased risk of the Delta COVID-19 variant; and currently increased COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations. Additionally, proponents argued that masks have some, however small, ability to reduce COVID-19 transmission, so why not force their use?
The primary oppositions to mandatory masking were that:
1. Parents are the best at deciding personal health choices for their children and not a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy;
2. Typical masks do not work well against COVID-19 transmission;
3. Optional masking has worked successfully all summer in Anchorage Summer School, with only one publicized case out of 9,000 students;
4. Masks are potentially damaging to the physical and mental health of children;
5. The Centers for Disease Control has been so wrong so often and so political they cannot be trusted (the primary justification for the newest CDC mask recommendation was a single Massachusetts event that was not school related, and the school environment has many special safeguards);
6. The World Health Organization does not fully agree with the CDC;
7. Even the CDC reports that fewer than 1 in 200,000 or .005% of children infected have died from COVID-19, which is less than the children who die from influenza (the flu) most years, and we have never mandated masks due to the flu;
8. While the Delta variant is much more contagious, it is no more deadly, and the vaccines we have do a very good job of preventing serious illness;
9. Mandatory masking just will not work for the youngest children, at least those in kindergarten and first grade, and is harmful to them educationally, mentally and physically.
10. The school district’s process for approving exceptions to the masking rules is not working well, and children with special needs are suffering;
11. Some district staff will likely use the guidelines to justify forcing mask-wearing even outside the buildings and in spite of the identified exceptions;
12. Just like last year, because of other non-student-based influences, once a policy is in place, the school district will delay or refuse to change even if the science clearly no longer supports it;
13. Many parents who can afford to or can homeschool so will withdraw their children from ASD if masks are mandatory.
I extensively read and studied the facts and the data and concluded that, on the whole, mandatory masking of all students will do more harm than good for the students of the Anchorage School District. I am especially concerned with increased suicides, mental health damage to our children directly caused by mask mandates, and educational loss. Accordingly, at the Aug. 3 meeting, I proposed three amendments to the policy, all of which failed due to having no supporting second for my motions. No other amendments were proposed. The plan then went into effect without the Board actually voting to adopt it.
My amendments were:
1. That the Board amend the plan to continue the Summer School parent-choice optional masking policy.
It failed for lacking a second.
2. That the superintendent reconsider the plan based on the public testimony.
It failed for lacking a second.
3. That the Board amend the plan to continue the Summer School optional masking policy for kindergarten and first-graders.
It failed for lacking a second.
I hope the superintendent and my fellow board members will reconsider and actively seek alternatives to mandatory masking of all students. One idea a testifier offered to preserve parental choice was to group students into mask and no-mask classrooms. Our community needs to hold the district’s leadership responsible for promptly returning masking choices to parents if Anchorage is not in a high COVID-19 risk condition.
Dave Donley is a lifelong resident of Anchorage, parent of teenage twins, attorney, and served as a state representative and senator for 16 years. He wrote this piece as an individual School Board
member and not on behalf of the Anchorage School District, School Board or any appointed military position he may hold.
PROPOSED ASD RESOLUTION REGARDING NSBA LETTER AND DOJ POLICY
BY MEMBER DAVE DONLEY 10.18.21 draft
WHEREAS parents nationwide have increasingly protested public school policies and practices
and, although a few have made illegal threats against public officials, the vast majority of these protests have been the exercise of protected free speech at public school board meetings and;
WHEREAS the legal conducting of local school board meetings is a local matter and should not be interfered with by the Federal Government and;
WHEREAS on September 29, 2021, citing legal authorities including the Patriot Act,
the “National School Boards Association” (of which the Anchorage School District is a member), without any prior notice to the Anchorage School Board, made public a letter demanding federal action against parents citing authorities including the Patriot Act.
WHEREAS evidence exists indicating the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona requested the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to send the September 19, 2021 letter. According to the email from Kristi Sett to Marine Maldonado, both members of the NSBA, who confirmed to Maldonado that Chip Slaven (who acted as NSBA interim leader at the time) “told the officers he was writing a letter to provide information to the White House, from a request by Secretary Cardona”. Previous emails had revealed that the NSBA was in contact with the White House and Justice Department in the weeks before it publicly sent its letter, but an email exchange obtained in January 2022 by the parents group Parents Defending Education through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and reviewed by Fox News Digital indicates the Education Department was more involved with the letter's creation than previously known. In an October 5, email, NSBA Secretary-Treasurer Kristi Swett recounted that NSBA interim CEO Chip Slaven "told the officers he was writing a letter to provide information to the White House, from a request by Secretary Cardona."1
WHEREAS the justification for federal action included that parents were “posting watchlists against school boards and spreading misinformation (sic) that boards are adopting critical race theory curriculum and working to maintain online learning by haphazardly attributing it to COVID-19” and;
WHEREAS a recent review of the incidents referred to in the NSBA’s letter reports that of the 24 incidents which the NSBA cited as tantamount to domestic terrorism or hate crimes, 16
consisted entirely of merely verbal exchanges between parents and school board members in which there was never a threat of physical violence2 and;
WHEREAS on October 4, 2021, the Attorney General’s issued a Memorandum entitled: “Partnership Among Federal, State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial law enforcement To Address Threats Against School Administrators, Board Members, Teachers, And Staff.” That memorandum stated:
“While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.”
“The Department takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority
and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them
when appropriate. In the coming days, the Department will announce a series of measures
designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”
WHEREAS the short time frame between the September 29 letter and the Attorney General’s
Memorandum suggests that either the entire matter was precoordinated and the September 29 NASB letter was but pretext, or that the normal clearance process and standard order both within the department (including legal sufficiency review by the Office of Legal Counsel, the Civil Rights Division, the Criminal Division, the Office of Legal Policy, and other components), and between the department and the White House Counsel’s Office and the Office of Management and Budget, were bypassed or corrupted and;
WHEREAS the U.S. Justice Department during the Obama Administration, during which President Biden was Vice President, conducted illegal investigations of political opponents that the DOJ Inspector General has found to have violated Department policy and have led to at least one criminal conviction and one additional recent indictment and;
WHEREAS on October 25, 2021 the National School Boards Association apologized for the September 29, 2021 letter stating: “On behalf of NSBA, we regret and apologize for the letter.” Further a memo from NSBA’s board to its members said. “There was no justification for some of the language included in the letter. We should have had a better process in place to allow for consultation on a communication of this significance. We apologize also for the strain and stress this situation has caused you and your organizations.”
WHEREAS Education Secretary Miguel Cardona personally requested the September 19, 2021 letter from the National School Boards Association calling parent activists domestic terrorists, according to new emails obtained and published January 11, 2022 by the nonprofit group Parents Defending Education through a Freedom of Information Act request. They indicate that the
September letter from the National School Boards Association to the Biden administration
was personally requested by Cardona.3
WHEREAS the governing board of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association has voted unanimously to withdraw from NSBA because of this unfortunate letter stating:
“The most recent national controversy surrounding a letter to President Biden suggesting that some parents should be considered domestic terrorists was the final straw,” and “This misguided approach has made our work and that of many school boards more difficult. It has fomented more disputes and cast partisanship on our work on behalf of school directors, when we seek to find common ground and support all school directors in their work, no matter their politics.” and;
WHEREAS as of December 7, 2021, seventeen state school board groups have withdrawn from the NSBA and half of all groups in the country have downgraded their relationship with the NSBA headquarters, most citing disillusionment with the inflammatory language used in the letter as well as prior grievances.4
WHEREAS local authorities are fully capable of appropriately handling any truly illegal activities that threaten public officials and school district employees:
BE IT RESOLVED THAT
The Anchorage School Board condemns in the strongest terms:
1. Any violence or threats of violence against any public official in relation to their official actions and;
2. Any action by the Federal Government to usurp the appropriate enforcement of the law by local government officials and;
3. The actions of the National School Boards Association in sending their September 29, 2021, letter to the Attorney General and;
4. The actions of the U.S. Attorney General in issuing his October 4, 2021, memorandum which fails to clearly state that the Department of Justice will not use federal law enforcement action to stifle free speech by political opponents of the Biden Administration.
5. Any actions by the U.S. Department of Education and Biden White House may have taken that may have solicited the September 29, 2021 NSBA letter.
INSTRUCTIONAL TIME IN ALASKA SCHOOLS BELOW NATIONAL AVERAGES
OPINION ARTICLE BY DAVE DONLEY MEMBER ANCHORAGE SCHOOL BOARD
In my little over a year on the Anchorage School Board I have tried to figure out why our students are not testing better. State-wide public school K-12 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores for Alaskan children are some of the lowest in the nation. Although we have no separate measure for comparing Anchorage School District test scores to national scores; Anchorage students are mixed in with the state-wide testing for this nation-wide federally mandated comparison. No matter what you might think of the efficacy of NAEP, it is all we have to compare state education systems. A consideration when interpreting these national rankings is that the actual academic gap between scoring low and the average may not be very much. Additionally, Alaska has now improved our level of academic rigor (how hard school is) to the 13th highest in the nation. However, Alaska’s low test result rankings are absolutely a cause for concern.
There are certainly many reasons for these low scores, many of which may be unique to Alaska. But one of the potential reasons we can do something about is the amount of instructional time our K-12 students receive. A recent report to the Anchorage School Board from ASD Deputy Superintendent Mark Stock exposed some rather shocking information about instructional time for our ASD students. By Alaska State law public schools need to teach at least 170 days a year. (AS 14.03.030(1)) State law also requires at least 740 hours of instruction and study periods for pupils in kindergarten through third grade and at least 900 hours of instruction and study periods for pupils in grades four through 12. (AS 14.03.030(3)) For most grades this means our school days cannot be less than 6.5 hours and actual instruction time is about 5 hours.
The Educational Research Service has reported that 175-180 is the national public school average number of student contact days (number of days kids are in school) in a year. The Anchorage School District’s school year has only 172 student contact days. The ASD years ago adopted the 6.5 hour state minimum for our standard school day. 172 student days X 6.5 hour student day (actual instruction time is less) equals 1,118 hours per year allocated for student instruction. This compares to a national average of around 1,300 hours per year. It is below even the nationally accepted lower levels of public school hours of instruction of 1,150 hours per year. Many other school districts around the nation provide students with 1,350 hours or more of per year instructional time. Many factors go into consideration of how to count instructional hours. Other statistical sources, such as the National Center for Education Statistics and the Education commission of the States, indicate Alaskan student instructional time, while lower than most states, may not be so far behind other states.
However, if we accept the data from the ERS what does this Alaska public school instructional time gap mean? Over the course of a school year ASD students may be getting almost 200 hours / 30 days less teaching time than the average K-12 student in the United States. Over a student’s 13 school years the difference between Alaska and the high end nationally adds up to about 3,016 instruction hours; which is 464 ASD school days (3,016 hours divided by 6.5 hours); which is 2.7 years (464 days divided by 172 student days) less of instructional time. Even discounting this calculation by 50%, still results in Anchorage students receiving the equivalent of over one year less instruction during their K-12 years than students in most other states.
Increasing the ASD school day by half an hour to 7 hours would increase the average ASD student’s lifetime amount of total instructional time by about one school year. This would put ASD closer to the middle of the national range of average amount of instructional time. A little more than a third of public schools nationally report a school day of 7 hours or more. Obviously increased school hours will create additional costs to an already financial difficult situation.
The research I have done into reports and studies, regarding the impacts of less instructional time in public schools, is mixed as to the correlation between test scores and hours of instruction. Many of the reviewed studies give findings that are difficult to interpret. Many identify other variables that exist that may be more determinative of test results and student achievement. While there is a general association between instructional time and test scores, there is evidence that there may be a ceiling effect of instructional time. Additionally, class size, general socioeconomic status, economic disadvantaged status, instructional style, and peer composition of classrooms may mediate the effect of additional instructional time.
But the dramatically less amount of instructional time Anchorage and many other Alaskan public school students are getting versus the national average is clearly cause for concern and a very obvious possible contributing factor of why Alaskan kids are scoring low in national testing. The public can view Dr. Stock’s full report on the ASD website at: http://www.boarddocs.com/ak/asdk12/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=B3FNUH5BA409
It is entitled: “8_20_18 WS Elem Recess.pdf” and includes information about lunch and recess time in ASD schools.
This opinion article is from Dave Donley as a parent of children in the Anchorage School District and individual member of the Anchorage School Board and does not represent the position of the Anchorage School Board or the Anchorage School District.
Dave Donley served as a State Senator and Representative from Anchorage from 1987 to 2002 and currently serves on the Anchorage School Board. He and his wife have twins in fifth grade in the Anchorage School District.
HOW ANCHORAGE KIDS ARE UNFAIRLY LOSING MILLIONS OF STATE EDUCATION FUNDS TO OTHER SCHOOL DISTRICTS
By Former Senator Dave Donley
Did you know state funding that should be coming to Anchorage schools is being unfairly sent to other school districts by the current state school funding formula? In 1998, I was one of a group of state senators lead by Senator Gary Wilken of Fairbanks that created the framework of the current state education funding formula commonly known as Alaska’s Public School Foundation Program which is defined in Alaska Statute 14.17, State Aid to Public Schools. Among other factors, we tried to create a formula that fairly takes into account the cost differences between different areas of Alaska in providing public schools. The formula has multiple factors and the second factor is this school cost differential or “District Cost Factor” (DCF) which is defined in AS 14.17.460.
The government only calculates the cost of living index (CPI) for the Anchorage area and not for other areas of Alaska. Additionally the CPI does not completely correlate with the actual cost of schools. So to determine the DCF, we commissioned a professional study of the actual cost of providing public schools in the different regional school districts in Alaska. At that time Anchorage was the least expensive area of the state to live in and provide schools. Accordingly Anchorage was set as the “base” and each other school district was assigned a DCF variable that increased their per student funding above that of Anchorage based on their actual costs.
The DCF was updated by a new study in 2005. But since that 2005 study, some twelve years ago, the DCF has not been updated. There was an attempt to update some of the cost information in 2015 by UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER). Specifically the regional difference in the cost of hiring teachers was researched and it was found that there are several districts that could attract the same quality of teacher for less money than Anchorage. While teacher costs is only one of many cost components it is by far the largest factor.
With what we do know it is very likely that Anchorage is no longer the least expensive area to provide public schools. This is also very likely to result in state school funding that should be going to Anchorage schools instead now unfairly going to other school districts. Accordingly, we need a new school cost differential study to properly update the current state education funding formula.
The Anchorage School District knows about this unfairness and has listed this issue as a 2017 legislative priority:
BSA Formula – Maintain current funding and examine the district cost factor within the BSA formula, as the cost disparities among districts may no longer exist
But inexplicitly the ASD also decided not to emphasize the DCF issue during their Juneau lobbying efforts this year. As a delegate to this year’s State PTA Legislative Conference I requested this issue be added to the State PTA priorities and it was.
When I became a candidate for the Anchorage School Board I asked the President of the School Board how much this out of date DCF was costing the ASD. She asked the ASD finance staff for an estimate and advised me they thought it could be as much as $26 million that each year is going to other school districts that should instead be coming to Anchorage. Even if that estimate is off by fifty percent the amount is almost as much as the current ASD funding shortfall that is forcing the reduction of 99 teachers next year.
As a community, Anchorage needs to prioritize and insist that the state authorized and complete a new School Cost Differential study by next year. The folks at the ISER have stated it is unlikely that you could have a well-done study completed in time for the next legislative session, unless the study were underway very quickly.
I raised this issue at a recent City Hall meeting of the Mayor, Assembly and School Board. I emphasized the importance of getting the legislature to order a new DCF study this year so that this unfairness can be accurately quantified and corrected. The children and taxpayers of Anchorage deserve our elected officials prioritizing this issue much more than they currently are.
Dave Donley served as a State Senator and State Representative from Anchorage for 16 years. He was Co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee and Chair of the Education Budget Subcommittee. He is a candidate for Anchorage School Board in the April 4 election.
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