The Ketchikan School Board on Friday set the agenda for a special board meeting Wednesday to discuss possible changes to the Ketchikan School District's Start Strong coronavirus mitigation plan.

At the board's regular meeting on Nov. 10, the board held a work session to discuss whether the Start Strong plan needed to be modified. Several board members showed interest in potentially rescinding some of the district's mitigation plan, and after the work session the board voted to hold a special meeting on Wednesday to hear from health experts on some of their proposed changes to the plan.

Rather than opening with public comment, as is typical for School Board meetings, Wednesday's special meeting will begin with a presentation by health professionals and district staff so that those speakers wouldn't have to schedule around lengthy public comment periods.

Those health professionals and district staff "hopefully" will include District Nurse Kimm Schwartz and Ketchikan Public Health Nurse Arizona Jacobs, Interim Superintendent Melissa Johnson said in a Friday phone interview.

She added that the district would be trying to get state health experts to speak during the special meeting, but noted, "we usually need a week, but we're going to do our best. ... We're definitely going to try."

Following that presentation period, the board will hear testimony from the public before moving to consider "action regarding changes to the COVID Start Strong mitigation plan and school operations as impacted by COVID," per the agenda.

Johnson confirmed Friday that she will have additional information to report to the board on Wednesday on several topics of interest discussed at the regular meeting, including details of the district's air filtration measures, as requested by Board President Stephen Bradford, and on whether the district could implement the less-restrictive close contact quarantining procedures that the Anchorage School District has enacted, as requested by Board members Bridget Mattson, Paul Robbins Jr. and Jordan Tabb.

She also said Friday that she will be reporting on behalf of gym teachers in the district on the viability of making masks optional during exercise, even at a "High" community risk level.

Fully optional masking in gym class has been a recurring frustration shared by parents at the board's meetings since the start of school, and several board members expressed interest in changing that district policy during Wednesday's regular meeting.

Johnson noted that "(the district has) already asked the PE teachers ... their opinions (on optional masking during exercise). And they've already given us their opinions. So we're going to send another email this weekend just asking for any clarification they may want to add to their opinions that they gave us in September."

She plans to convey the perspectives of those teachers in aggregate to prevent "any backlash or negative feedback they could get individually, ... depending on either direction they feel like they can do in their buildings."

But Johnson said Friday that she wouldn't be bringing back more information about the Gateway Recreation Center's Summer Camp program due to fundamental differences between those programs and the district's gym classes.

Several parents have pointed to the program as a model of success for mask-optional exercise because no outbreaks had been formally associated with either group. On Wednesday, after Johnson said that she planned to talk with gym teachers about masking during exercise, Robbins said that he'd "like for those PE teachers to confer with that summer program that was so effective over at the Rec Center."

Johnson on Friday explained that differences between the programs are "like doing Ketchikan Dribbler's League and the Kayhi basketball team: The ... mitigation for the Ketchikan Dribbler's League is way different than the Kayhi basketball team, who has to ... be drug tested, who has to (be) COVID tested, who has to adhere to academic standards. They're two separate things. And while they might not have anybody ineligible, the reason why is because they're not doing eligibility, where we are."

She also noted the size disparities between the Rec Center's programs and the district — 40 participants in 2020 and 60 in 2021 compared to 2,200 students in the district — and that the delta variant of the coronavirus was not widespread when the summer programs were being offered.

Wednesday's special meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly Chambers at 1900 First Ave.

There will be time for public comment at the start of the meeting, limited to five minutes of testimony per person.