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ConVal OK’s reopening in-person with mandatory masks, student pods, remote options and outdoor classrooms

  • A ConVal School District bus. (Benji Rosen/ Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Benji Rosen

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/5/2020 4:05:05 PM

ConVal unanimously approved a fall reopening plan at the School Board meeting Tuesday night, in a decision that School Board Chair Rich Cahoon told other members may be the most important Board decision fellow members ever make. The motion greenlighted the District to start the school year with different tracks for in-person, hybrid, and remote learning pending grade level, family choice, and the frequency of COVID-19 outbreaks in the community.

The plan is designed so that quarantining a single “pod” of students or a school building may be feasible rather than shutting the whole district down in the event of an outbreak, ConVal Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders reiterated at the meeting. Elementary and middle school students are grouped into multi-age pods, each with their own entrance to the building, with designated teachers and fellow household members in order to minimize contact between pods. Due to the pod structure, some elementary school classes may be comprised of multiple age groups, and some middle school students may interact with their class via livestream in the blended learning lab when a class size is over 15. High school students are divided into two teams representing northern and southern towns in the district that keep household members together, facilitate efficient transportation and increase the likelihood that students can see their friends. Preschoolers will form their own pods at PES and AES and join a K-4 pod at GES, with families being contacted directly regarding COVID-19 protocol.

Students and staff are directed to self-screen at home and will be screened again at school every day. Students and faculty with a fever over 100 degrees will be sent home, and anyone exhibiting symptoms or indicating exposure through daily screening questions will undergo additional evaluation by a school nurse to determine whether they need to quarantine.

A designated monitoring team will evaluate each school in the district on a daily basis to assign a color code based on the presence of COVID-19, from no detectable community transmission (blue) to substantial uncontrolled transmission (red). If current rates of community infection hold until the start of September, school would resume with all buildings in “green” mode: minimal to moderate community transmission, with moderate mitigation efforts in place. A red level would constitute resuming remote learning for all students and staff and occur if the CDC recommends to shelter in place, Rizzo Saunders said.

 Select Board Chair Rich Cahoon thanked the administration and plan developers on behalf of the board, describing the plan as “better than any of its like than I’ve seen elsewhere.” He also warned the community that the plan is only as good as the community’s efforts to follow the protocols it outlines. “If we cannot do that, we will not be able to retain at our green status for very long,” he said.

The plan includes a list of ways families can help implement the plan and keep infection rates low and in-person schooling ongoing. Number one is facilitating transportation: driving their child to school and coordinating carpools, Rizzo Saunders said. Additionally, families can help by following the daily at-home screening protocol for COVID-19, following travel risk guidelines and remaining within New England, preparing their child for the new school protocol, providing them with five cloth face masks and hand sanitizer to use during the week, and being prepared if their student needs to return to remote learning.

The school is sourcing tents to serve as outdoor classrooms that can be used for regular classes, reading, lunch time, environmental exploration, or small group or special education groups. Children will be expected to come dressed appropriately for outdoor instruction during the fall and spring.

Students and faculty are expected to wear masks on school grounds and on buses, with mask breaks scheduled throughout the day. Per legal review and RSA 200:39, students who refuse to wear a mask “shall be deemed a hazard to themselves and others” and they’ll be removed from the classroom, with parents notified as soon as possible, Rizzo Saunders clarified at the School Board meeting. Several School Board members cited others of the school’s legal obligations that support the mask mandate. “From time to time, governments must compel individuals to, for instance, have vaccinations before coming to school … I think the statutory citations add a lot of strength,” Board member Stephen Ullman said. 

 Students are expected to stay at least six feet apart at school, and will eat lunch in classrooms or outdoors if they can’t appropriately distance in the cafeteria. Lockers won’t be assigned this year, and hallway traffic in the high school is routed one way and will be monitored to prevent crowding. Middle and high school band and chorus programs will proceed with participants appropriately distanced. Other co-curriculars are meeting remotely and the school is still deliberating what athletic programs could be implemented. The school buildings aren’t open to visitors or for public use, at least for the start of the year.

Families can alternatively opt their students into an entirely remote learning program, where middle and high school teachers would livestream their lessons to viewers at home and elementary students have a designated remote teacher. Families can change their preference of  in-person or remote learning once a month, and are being asked to commit to one system or another by Aug. 14 for the start of the year.

The 2021-22 academic calendar has been redesigned so students remain at home between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and for three weeks following a two week vacation in March, which replaces the usual single week vacations in February and April. The intention is to combine vacation time with remote learning to minimize transitions between in person and remote instruction, and also time it to keep schools empty during high travel periods during the year.  Families would be notified as soon as possible if it becomes advisable to extend in-person learning, according to the plan.

After the full plan was released, some families who originally intended to keep their students home have decided to send them to school, Rizzo Saunders said. No staff have resigned over the reopening plan as of Wednesday, she said, although assignments to remote versus in-person instruction won’t be finalized until after Aug. 14, the deadline for families to opt into remote versus in-person instruction. The school would reach out to anyone who hadn’t responded by then, she said. Every local school will offer an opportunity for parents to meet with staff to discuss the plan on Aug. 5-8. School resumes on Sept. 8 for all students.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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