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Local school districts pitch plans for 2021-22 ahead of Sununu’s deadline

  • Adalyn Rodimon gets her temperature checked before entering Florence Rideout Elementary School in Wilton for the first day of school in 2020. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/9/2021 4:00:55 PM

The Department of Education has required school districts put into place a plan for the 2021-22 school year by June 23, and local districts are starting to make decisions about what the fall will look like.

Earlier this year, Gov. Chris Sununu announced all K-12 schools must offer a full-time, in-person learning as of April 19, and all local schools have been operating full-time since then, if they weren’t already, but still offered a fully-remote option.

Local school districts appear ready to carry on the five-day in-person schedule in the fall, according to current reopening plan discussions.

On Monday, the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School Board made two adjustments to its current framework, effective immediately, and discussed a community survey asking parents their preferences for the fall.

The decisions made by the School Board Monday were regarding wearing masks outdoors, and giving nurses more flexibility when deciding whether students are displaying symptoms of COVID-19, or something else with similar symptoms.

The board discussed changing the current masking rules to allow masks to be removed while outdoors, including during recess and non-contact sports.

Several parents spoke in favor of the move.

Stacy Seppala of Rindge said she’d “love to see them gone inside as well,” or at least offer students and parents the choice of whether or not to wear them.

“They’re together after hours, and they’re not wearing masks,” Seppala pointed out.

The board agreed unanimously to lift mask-wearing requirements outdoors.

While parents still have through June 14 to submit the survey for the 2021-22 plan, a wide majority said they would be comfortable returning in-person without any precautions such as mask wearing or social distancing if COVID-19 positive cases remained at the same rate they are now, with opinions more split if there is a notable uptick in the county.

Parents, in both cases, favored returning with no restrictions, with 58.7% in favor of no restrictions if numbers remain the same, and 45% still in favor of no restrictions if numbers rise.

The district also surveyed 130 staff members, who overall leaned toward fewer restrictions to start the year, but were more split on the issue if COVID-19 spread increases.

If cases remain the same, only 3.1% of staff members said they wanted the same level of restrictions as currently, while 39.2% wanted no restrictions.

If there is a severe uptick, however, 28.5% of staff members said they would like the same amount of precautions taken now, with 19.2% still preferring no precautions.

Both staff and families indicate hand washing and increased cleaning protocols should stay in place.

Superintendent Reuben Duncan indicated a committee of 15 people will meet this week to discuss potential recommendations for the reopening plan, and the district will work off the current year’s plan as a base, altering it as needed. A draft of the plan is expected to be written early next week, and approved by the School Board on June 21. Duncan assured the board that the plan is not set in stone and can be changed as the school year approaches or during the school year if circumstances change.

The Mascenic School Board also met on Monday and discussed, in loose terms, the plan for the next school year. Superintendent Chris Martin told parents and the School Board the current plan is to continue a full-time, in-person model, and eliminate remote learning.

“The Reader’s Digest version is that we will be returning to school under as normal conditions as allowed,” Martin said. “We can go back to school and behave as we have for 150 years.”

The current reopening plan would call for a five-day in-person model, with remote learning no longer a full-time option, and only used during short-term closures of the buildings, should that need arise.

Mascenic also anticipates providing a normal schedule of athletics and clubs, and will follow any mitigation strategies required by the NHIAA, Centers for Disease Control and Department of Health and Human Services for competition. Whenever the opposing team has a stricter mitigation plan, Mascenic will comply with those requirements.

The Mascenic School board will determine the best mitigation strategies based on the current conditions and transmission of COVID-19, and can make decisions to enforce masking, social distancing, enhanced cleaning or health screening as needed.

ConVal released its Reopening and Recovery Plan for the 2021-22 school year last Thursday. “We are so excited that many of the changes to this document represent a return to a normal school experience,” Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders wrote in its introduction. “The plan that follows demonstrates our confidence that the 2021-22 school year will represent the ConVal community putting much of the pandemic behind us and moving forward toward recovery and resiliency.”

The upcoming reopening plan is similar to last year’s in the sense that there are contingencies for different COVID-19 threat levels, based on the extent of community spread, School Board Chair Tim Theberge said. However, the District expects for school to reopen in the fall under “Blue Phase,” which means there’s no transmission, or minimal community transmission of COVID-19, rather than the “Green Phase” they anticipated last year. That means there’s no segmented calendar with pre-planned remote periods this year, and sports and extra-curriculars are expected to start up in the fall like in pre-COVID times, Theberge said. Although pods and cohorts of students were strictly separated this year, that protocol has relaxed somewhat in the new plan, he said. “The new plan talks about reducing, rather than eliminating, interactions,” he said.

Although “a good number” of ConVal staff are fully vaccinated, vaccination rates for students over 12 are less clear, Theberge said. The School Board has not asked whether they can require vaccinations of children eligible to receive them, he said, and currently, their vaccination policy follows that of the state.

Masking guidelines will follow CDC and DHHS recommendations, according to multiple sections of the plan. Although masks aren’t mentioned specifically in the plan’s executive summary, precautionary practices such as daily health screening questions and temperature checks, maintaining hand hygiene, and physical distancing are mentioned, as well as increasing ventilation and air treatment in school buildings and monitoring pertinent COVID-19 caseload data.

ConVal’s thorough 2020-21 reopening plan was developed by a robust task force with lots of staff and parent input, and this new plan builds on that work, as well as on additional feedback from surveys, emails, discussions, and feedback groups, Rizzo Saunders wrote. “Throughout the planning process, our focus has been improving on what we have done,” she wrote, but guiding principles remain focused on the health and safety of students, staff, and the community. “We will continue to make decisions based on health data, not personal preferences, emotions, or politics,” she wrote.

ConVal’s School Board will be accepting public comment on the plan at their June 15 meeting. After that, the school’s Reopening and Recovery Implementation Team will review public feedback and make any necessary revisions. The finalized plan will be available for review Monday, June 28, and the School Board is scheduled to approve it on July 13.

Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District is scheduled to discuss its reopening plan during it’s next board meeting, June 22. Wilton-Lyndeborough was the only local district to begin the school year in 2020 with a five-day in-person option, but have required face coverings for students throughout the school year.

During its meeting Tuesday, the School Board opted to delay discussions for a fall reopening plan, but did make a decision regarding mask wearing for summer school, according to School Board member Charlie Post.

The board ultimately voted unanimously to make masks optional for summer school students.

“It’s challenging, and we’re trying to keep everyone happy, which is hard,” Post said.

Reporter Abbe Hamilton contributed to this report.


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