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Schools eye safety while preparing to start year in tents

  • ConVal staff, some of whom are teaching in outdoor tent classrooms, participate in a fire drill last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ConVal staff, some of whom are teaching in outdoor tent classrooms, participate in a fire drill last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ConVal staff, some of whom are teaching in outdoor tent classrooms, participate in a fire drill last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ConVal dean of students Steve Bartsch leads a fire drill at the high school last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ConVal staff participate in a fire drill last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/2/2020 4:36:11 PM

Tents have sprouted up like mushrooms on school grounds throughout the ConVal School District over the past couple weeks, and safety is on the minds of school officials following a large tent collapsing in New Ipswich during a thunderstorm on Aug. 23, injuring six and hospitalizing four.

“Obviously after something like that, there are going to be concerns,” ConVal Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said last Friday. The school’s tents are being installed by reputable local vendors, she said, and are being inspected by Facilities Director Tim Grossi and local officials to insure they meet criteria from the state Fire Marshal’s office.

There are reverse evacuation plans in place in case of a thunderstorm or other severe weather, Rizzo Saunders said, where staff and students enter the buildings from the outdoor classrooms. “Just like we practice fire drills with students we’ll practice those drills as well,” she said.

When asked about how the school planned to modify emergency lockdown procedures for outdoor classrooms, the Superintendent said she couldn’t go into specific detail about school security, but that ConVal’s plan “includes our emergency operation plans, additional staff outside that are not teaching but are entirely dedicated to watching campuses, working in conjunction with our local law enforcement, and at this point we are also discussing potential additional needs with a security company.” 

Parents with safety concerns can contact Rizzo Saunders or  Grossi by email, she said.   

At High Mowing School in Wilton, students and staff have nearly completed the construction of eight outdoor learning structures on the Pine Hill of the Wilton school’s campus. Fifty boarding students are currently quarantining on campus in advance of the start of classes on Sept. 8 and helped to create 120 lap desks, so every student can have a personal portable work surface, the school said in a press release. The eight A-frame structures are made from wood harvested on the school’s campus and durable agricultural tarp. The structures are designed to shed water as well as snow, maintenance crew member Tristan Kline said, and large enough to accommodate six feet between each student underneath it. The structures have been inspected by Wilton Fire Chief Don Nourse.

“We know there is no such thing as bad weather: It’s all about appropriate clothing, so we will be educating about how to dress appropriately for the rain and the snow,” Director of Health Services Willow Graham said, adding that students will go inside in unsafe conditions. “Outdoor learning is a natural extension of the many outdoor programs already familiar to our students on both campuses. Experiential, hands-on learning is a key element of Waldorf Education,” Head of School Geraldine Kline said.


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