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ConVal and Wilton-Lyndeborough announce intent to open in-person as school districts develop fall plans

  • ConVal High School in Peterborough, N.H. (Monadnock Ledger-Transcript photograph) Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/15/2020 1:13:15 PM

Governor Chris Sununu left major decisions surrounding reopening schools up to local school districts’ discretion when he released the state’s guidelines for the upcoming school year on Tuesday. The ConVal and Wilton-Lyndeborough school districts have announced their intention to conduct in-person instruction in the fall, Mascenic has announced a preliminary hybrid plan, and Jaffrey-Rindge and Mason School Districts are discussing their plans. School districts have the final say on when to open in-person, whether to require mask wearing or establish maximum group sizes, according to state guidelines.

ConVal announced it planned to reopen in the fall for in-person instruction last Friday.“We will also be providing a remote environment for those families that either need or would prefer to receive instruction that way,” Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said in the weekly update, and that reopening plans are developing according to current CDC guidance. “Every day we are working vigorously on what that will look like,” she said on Wednesday. “Our goal is to have a really clear plan out for parents,” she said. The School District will be sharing the results of the most recent parent survey on Friday, she said, as part of the weekly updates that will continue to be posted via the school’s website, Facebook, and Twitter account, she said.

Faculty have had access to a coronavirus-specific bank of sick days since soon after the school closed in March, Rizzo Saunders said, which they can use if they have to miss work due to COVID-19-related illness, in addition to the federal Family and Medical Leave benefits they’ve always had, she said. ConVal is also reminding employees of the mental health and wellness-related services they can access through their benefits providers. “We actually have a pretty strong set of resources for both the employee as well as their families,” she said.

ConVal’s seven reopening committees continue to iron out the details for the fall, but details are beginning to emerge, Rizzo Saunders said. The committees are not considering reconfiguring schools, but they are looking into capitalizing on the school year’s unique circumstances to reimagine and improve instruction in different grade levels, Rizzo Saunders said. “What instructional strategies could work, what is it maybe time to start letting go?” she said. For example, Francestown Elementary School’s successful multi-age approach to teaching could be scaled up in other appropriate situations, she said.

Last week, the ConVal School Board approved a budget freeze. “The impact… is not that we won’t be spending money, but we are spending it very strategically,” Rizzo Saunders said, and that a district the size of ConVal may need to reallocate between 1.8 and 2.2 million to support the school’s eventual reopening plan. The school’s top priority is the safety of staff and students, she said. Additional facilities, nursing, and school counseling staff may be hired to aid the District’s new procedures, Rizzo Saunders said, or additional teaching staff if the reopening committees decide to reduce class sizes. “We’re going to be really strategic if we do it,” she said.

During an emergency Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School Board meeting on Tuesday, the board directed Superintendent Bryan Lane to create a plan for students to return to fully in-person instruction in the fall.

Lane said in an interview Wednesday that while the focus will be on students returning to the building, the district is also going to provide a remote option for those who “cannot or are not comfortable” attending classes in-person.

“The primary delivery of instruction will be in the building. But they have also asked me to create flexible options for distance learning,” Lane said.

Lane said the district would work with parents to create a plan for four-to-six weeks of instruction at a time, and reevaluate periodically, in the cases where students aren’t returning to the building. Lane said remote instruction won’t be in the same format as it was in the Spring, with the district looking at options of livestreaming classes as they occur, but said there may be other options looked at based on the number of students who are learning from home.

A meeting of the district’s reopening committee is scheduled for Thursday, and the final plan is scheduled to be presented to the School Board on July 28, but Lane said the committee has already been discussing what an in-person return to school looks like.

Lane said the majority of the classroom spaces in the district, at the current class sizes, allow for social distancing of between five or six feet. For those that don’t, the district is planning to move those classrooms to larger spaces.

The issue of masks and when students will wear them hasn’t been settled, Lane said, but students are likely to wear them in gathering spaces.

“Whether they’ll be required to wear them at their desks, we haven’t decided that yet,” Lane said.

Lane said the district is also working on getting face shields for those who aren’t able to wear a mask.

Lane said, currently, the district busses don’t carry their full capacity, and the district will be analyzing how many students are planning to use bus transportation in the fall before making any decisions on transportation.

Mascenic Superintendent Chris Martin said in an interview Wednesday the reopening committee plans to recommend a hybrid model to the School Board, with the students in the building some days, and learning online others.

Half of the students will be learning in-person on Monday and Tuesday, the other half Thursday and Friday, with Wednesday a day for teachers to communicate with students about remote learning and to clean and disinfect the school, Martin said.

Some issues, including whether students will wear masks in the building, are still under discussion.

“This is a big hurdle for the community, and there’s been an unfortunate politicizing of wearing masks,” Martin said. “There’s been a lot of discussion of ‘shall’ versus ‘recommended’.”

Martin said the committee has outlined an approach that would allow the district to switch between all-remote and hybrid if needed.

The Mascenic School Board will deliberate on the committee’s recommendation on Monday, and the district has scheduled a virtual Town Hall meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. to receive feedback from parents. Feedback from both the board and the public will be incorporated into a final revised plan, which is scheduled to go back before the School Board on July 27 for final approval. The July 27 version of the plan is expected to have more specific information related to the district’s three schools.

The Jaffrey-Rindge School District’s reopening committee was scheduled to meet Wednesday evening to review the guidance from the state, and to put together a survey to provide to families for feedback, according to a post by Superintendent Reuben Duncan on the district’s Facebook page.

The survey, expected to be sent to parents Thursday, is planned to be used in finalizing the district’s reopening plans.

The Mascenic and Mason School Districts both plan to discuss reopening options during their meetings on July 20. In both districts, reopening committees have created scenarios for in-person, remote, or hybrid systems that the boards will discuss.

Although short on mandates, the state’s guidance document provides detailed recommendations for screening, disinfecting, isolating confirmed or suspected cases, minimizing opportunities for virus spread throughout the school day, and generally following guidelines from the state Department of Public Health Services.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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