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Jaffrey-Rindge School District confirms Jan. 19 return date

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/18/2021 5:12:44 PM

The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School Board decided to “stay the course” on its previous decision to return to in-person learning for students on Jan. 19, after reviewing current COVID-19 infection numbers following its budget hearing on Thursday night.

After more than an hour’s discussion on the topic, the board took Superintendent Reuben Duncan’s recommendation that the board take no action on the return to school date previously decided, and continue to plan to return from a period of remote learning over the holidays on Tuesday.

The decision was based on current infection cases in Cheshire County, rates of community transmission in schools, and high rates of truancy during the remote learning period, and reports of student frustration and struggles to learn during the remote model.

On Thursday, when the board made its decision, there had been 28 new cases in Jaffrey over the past 14 days, and 34 new cases in Rindge, compared to 382 in all of Cheshire County.

One issue discussed by the board was the number of students who were reported as being “truant” or absent without an excuse, since the start of remote learning. The week before remote learning began in December, the district reported 34 students truant. The week remote learning began, that number shot up to a total of 223. In the weeks since, that number has fluctuated, but at its highest was 225 in one week, and at its lowest was 118 in a week.

The majority agreed that because of evidence showing that children have a lower transmission rate than adults, and due to the high rate of truancy and frustration among students and parents, it was best to return to school on their originally agreed-upon date.

Several teachers in the district spoke during the meeting, on both sides of the issue.

Shauna Smith of Rindge, a parent and teacher within the district, said she supported returning to school if a safe environment could be guaranteed but also worried about the effect of returning to school and having to re-enter remote learning shortly after due to infections.

Teacher Amanda Parsons said the remote model was “not sustainable” and that she felt confident because of the control she could have over following protocols in her classroom. “Remote learning needs to end and we need to return in person,” she said.

Other teachers said that while no one was arguing that in-person was the best model, they wanted to continue remotely.

“As a cancer survivor, I am scared out of my mind to go back to school,” Catherine MacKay, who works at the Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School, said. MacKay said she felt like a “sacrificial lamb” and that while children may not have as high a risk, she herself did. “We’re so close to the finish line,” MacKay said, speaking of the current vaccine rollout.

Sarah Graham, another Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School employee, agreed that she was in favor of delaying the return to in-person learning, saying the infection numbers in the district and recent reports of students testing positive over the winter break were concerning.

“I hear you,” School Board member Patricia Farmer said, in response to teacher concerns. “Believe me, we hear you. it matters to us. We just need to do this for the kids.” Farmer said the district should push for teachers to be high priority when it comes to vaccine distribution. 

School Board member John McCarthy suggested that the board consider a hybrid model, where only half the students attend in-person at a time, or to consider an option to continue remote learning for the middle and high school grades while the elementary school students returned, but his suggestions did not generate discussion.

With the exception of McCarthy, the rest of the board in a straw poll said they were in favor of continuing the plan to return to school on Jan. 19. The board did not make any motions to change the return date, effectively confirming their initial decision.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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