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ConVal resumes classes while resolving classroom, technical issues

  • Greenfield Elementary Students sketch and compare their nature drawings outside last week. Courtesy image—

  • Health screenings at Great Brook School on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Courtesy image—

  • Temple Elementary School teacher Tina Perreault reads to her second grade class. Courtesy image—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/11/2020 2:55:01 PM

Students and staff weathered their first few days back in the ConVal School District and the new routine is underway, despite a few hiccups. All students in grades K-6 were able to attend the first day in person, Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said, while delays in inspecting outdoor classroom tents forced a remote start for middle and high school students, save for 70 in the middle schools and 45 in the high school who attended in-person due to special circumstances. Rizzo Saunders said Monday that the district is “aggressively working” to address the tent issue, but that the tents that are over 400 square feet are still not permitted to serve as classrooms. Rizzo Saunders said that students in grades 7-9 were expected to return to their regular schedules for in-person learning on Tuesday and that students in grades 10-12 will continue remote learning. 

Some remote students fell victim to a nationwide Zoom glitch on Tuesday that the meeting platform has since fixed, she said. Other families are experiencing some of the same technological issues plaguing the spring semester: some didn’t realize they needed an internet hotspot on the first day, and other households with multiple family members working at home are having bandwidth issues, Rizzo Saunders said. “We are in the process of making sure everyone has the hardware that they need,” she said.

For Greenfield Elementary School principal Colleen Roy, Tuesday marked the first tear-free first day back she could recall in years.  “Even incoming kindergartners,” she  said. “We’re just happy to be back in person,” staff and students alike, she said on Wednesday afternoon.

Outdoor learning went well over at Temple Elementary School, reported Principal Fabiola Woods. Children are told to treat the outdoor classroom tents like any other classroom, and to focus on the speaker, she said, tuning out the other classes they can see outside or any ambient distractions. Each child received a foam mat to sit on in dewy grass, she said. “So far, so good,” Woods said, although the new classrooms hadn’t been tested by bad weather or an errant bee yet. “It’s been remarkable,” she said, and that she credits the  extensive planning throughout the summer to the seamless start to the year.

Both Roy and Woods reported that their young students were being good about wearing their masks and complying with other new COVID-19 prevention rules.

ConVal recently unveiled its COVID-19 dashboard, which reports which, if any, student pods are currently quarantined as well as confirmed cases in the district and region. The link to the raw data provides detailed information on case numbers and absences. On the first day of school, four students were quarantined across the district, six were out sick for any reason, and there were no staff absences or pods closed outside of the Gold cohort in the high school, which was scheduled to learn remotely that week. Additionally, there were no COVID-19 inpatients at Monadnock Community Hospital, no active cases in any of the nine towns in the District, and 105 active cases across Cheshire, Hillsborough, and Merrimack counties.

Under what circumstances would ConVal consider a return to full, in-person instruction? It’s not something the district’s COVID-19 monitoring team has discussed at length yet, Rizzo Saunders said, but they would begin to consider it if the district’s streak of no new cases continued, and if they saw declines in cases throughout the surrounding counties. A solid decrease in the number of state cases and a rollback of New Hampshire’s state of emergency would also factor in, she said. “If those continue to decrease, then we'll start talking about when it's time to start considering a change,” she said. The School Board would ultimately determine when to make that change, she said.

Bussing costs have worked out to be about the same as last year, Rizzo Saunders said, although routes had to be rearranged to keep students separate in their assigned pods.  Transportation logistics had been a concern throughout the summer, and families were asked to find their own means of transportation whenever possible to reduce the need for bussing. Ultimately, about half the families sending their kids to school in person have made arrangements to drive them in, Rizzo Saunders said, with the other half taking the bus. Despite the route changes, buses are making stops at similar times to last year, she said. “We’re very fortunate we had so many parents being willing to drive students to school so we could maximize the buses for students whose parents weren’t able to drive them,” she said. Families having issues with bussing should contact their school principal and the bus company directly, she said.

The contract for the 80 or so tents set up throughout the district cost about $480,000, Rizzo Saunders said. The funds will come from the District’s general fund as well as potential FEMA reimbursements and any other grant dollars they can use.

ConVal is unable to deliver lunches to students opting for remote learning this fall since buses are in use, she said, but the district is arranging for families to pick up lunches at the elementary school in their town, she said.

“When you roll something out with this many new processes, there’s going to be bumps in the road,” Rizzo Saunders said, “But the students are back, teachers are working and instructing students, and overall things have gone generally smoothly considering we're in the middle of a pandemic.”


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