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Public schools scramble to implement remote learning after statewide closure

  • Mascenic Regional High School Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/16/2020 8:54:13 PM

All public schools are closed in the state for the next three weeks due to an emergency order from Governor Sununu. The order, signed on March 15, specifies that all public K-12 school districts in the state transition to remote instruction from March 16 through April 3.

The ConVal and Jaffrey-Rindge School Districts announced their decision to cancel school prior to the Governor’s order, and the Mascenic and Wilton-Lyndeborough schools sent communications to parents following the decision. All schools anticipate reopening on Monday, April 6 at this point. Staff and faculty from all School Districts spent Monday working out plans and procedures for the coming weeks.

ConVal faculty had been discussing the possibility of remote learning since students returned from winter break, South Meadow School fifth grade teacher Tim Iwanowicz said. Teachers went over necessary skills for remote learning with middle and high school students last week, and sent students home with their Chromebooks on Friday, he said.

“When we walked out the door on Friday, they were ready,” Iwanowicz said, despite not knowing whether schools would close.

He described Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders’ response to the COVID-19 epidemic as proactive, calm and effective.

“She did a fantastic job getting out in front of this,” he said.

Faculty are spending Monday and Tuesday working out videoconferencing and online learning protocol, he said.

At an emergency School Board meeting on Friday, Superintendent Rizzo Saunders said that two people in two different buildings in the district had been tested for COVID-19. Almost 100 students in the School District are immunosuppressed, Rizzo Saunders said, and 130 of the District’s staff were considered high risk, and 90 considered higher risk based on their age. At the meeting, the School Board moved to continue to pay hourly staff during the closure.

Rizzo Saunders said that only 45 students, or 12 percent of the whole student body, do not have access to the internet. The district is attempting to provide hot spots for the students currently without internet access. Virtual learning through Google Classroom is scheduled to begin on Wednesday for middle and high school students. Rizzo Saunders wrote to families that further communications were coming from school principals about specifics on remote learning procedures. The district’s Special Education Director plans to communicate directly to families of students receiving special education. 

The Mascenic School District is spending this week developing a plan for remote learning, which would begin March 23, Superintendent Chris Martin said. She said the School District would be sending daily messages to parents via phone, Facebook, and on the school’s website to update families on school decisions. “The situation is evolving faster than we could communicate it,” she said, and that a School Board meeting was in progress when the Governor’s announcement came through on Sunday.

First priority is setting a time for students and parents to pick up school materials including Chromebooks, as well as any medications that might have been left at the schools, Martin said. The School District conducted an online survey asking families about their access to home internet and devices late last week, Martin said, and about 700 of the District’s 1040 students have already responded. Almost 90 percent of families have access to devices, she said, and the District is working to address limitations in internet and technology access this week.  “We’re providing learning opportunities one way or another,” she said. The Mascenic campus will close at the end of the day on Wednesday, and all faculty besides administrative and clerical staff will work from home from that point on, she said. Martin said she hoped to address the status of hourly employees during the closure at a meeting on Monday night.

Jaffrey Rindge School District announced Saturday its decision to close schools. Online classes are expected to start on Thursday, Superintendent Reuben Duncan wrote in a letter to parents and staff. Staff and faculty were working on rolling out remote learning on Monday, Communications Coordinator Nicholas Handy said.

“In these first couple days this week, this is where a lot of the planning and conversation is happening,” Handy said.

The district plans to communicate with families as they develop more concrete plans, he said. And the school district is meeting with town officials as well as their bus company and its food service provider early this week to determine how to best help families during the closure, Handy said. 

Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District Superintendent Bryan Lane wrote to families that the School District would be making a plan over the next several days. The specifics are to vary depending on students’ age, school subject and access to technology. Lane wrote he planned to have the procedure in place by Wednesday. Teachers will be available from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to answer questions via email or phone. The district was developing a system to deliver Chromebooks and other necessary materials as of Monday. Lane suggested that families set specific times for doing school work throughout the day, including 30 to 45 minutes of reading, and 60 to 90 minutes of outdoor time.

The Mason Elementary School is distributing “blizzard bags” for elementary school students, available for pickup at the school on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The bags contain a week’s worth of work, and the process is scheduled to be repeated the following Wednesday. The packets are mostly comprised of paper worksheets. Superintendent Kristen Kivela said that although students’ families do have logins for online content, enough families have underperforming or unreliable internet in town that it seemed better to reserve bandwidth for middle and high school students. The school’s 24 staff members will continue to work at the school or at home on a case by case basis, she said. The elementary school plans to work out a system offering meals for students receiving free lunch on a pickup or delivery basis, she said. She encouraged community members to check the school’s website for updated information and to reach out with questions.

Franklin Pierce University students are on spring break this week, and the administration announced that all classes on the Rindge campus will be conducted online through April 6. Students will not be allowed on campus except under exceptional circumstances through April 5. Internships, practicums, and student teaching appointments are scheduled to continue. 

The Peterborough Food Pantry is currently closed, but representatives from the Pantry, the ConVal School District and End 68 Hours of Hunger met Monday afternoon to determine the best way to provide for students and families in need of assistance during the school closures.

“We have food, but we are not open in our regular way,” Executive Director Kathy Boss said. “This doesn’t mean we’re not going to be distributing food. We’re stepping back for a day or two to try to figure out how to distribute food.”

The Rindge Congregational Church is offering its Got Lunch program to students impacted by school closures. The program is seeking needy families as well as support for the program. “We are prepared to deliver around 100 bags in the next couple of days and have enough inventory to carry that through the current three-week school closure,” representative Sarah Schultz said.

She encouraged any family in the Jaffrey Rindge community struggling with access to food to contact the program at 899-5722 or gotlunch@rindgeucc.org for assist ance, and to mail donations for food purchases at Got Lunch at PO Box 451 in Rindge.


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