Students in Manchester could return to in-person learning — some for the first time this school year — as soon as Jan. 25, under a revised metric approved by school board members Monday night.

This revised metric is modeled after the state’s guidance released in November. The key revision is how the district will now decide between having students learning in school versus remote learning.

The change approved Monday allows the district to make those decisions on a school-by-school basis, depending on the level of school impact of COVID-19.

“By utilizing this guidance, we are able to safely get students back into school sooner,” said Supt. of Schools John Goldhardt. “The emotional and academic impact our students are facing in remote learning cannot be ignored, and it’s imperative that we focus on student need.”

Sue Hannan, president of the Manchester Education Association (MEA), said union members are reviewing the new metric, saying the revisions approved by board members raise “many questions, and much anxiety.”

“Once again, the BOSC is making determinations with students in mind (rightly so), but not really with the educators and staff in mind,” said Hannan in a statement. “A change in the metric opens opportunities to bring students back into the schools, but perhaps too early. Educators want to be with their students. Educators also have to be mindful of their own health and their families’ health as well.”

“The safety of our students and faculty remains of the utmost importance and we’ll continue to follow the protocols adopted in our re-entry plan,” said Goldhardt. “It may be that one school is able to open right away, while another is not. It’s possible that we’ll have to move an entire school to remote learning. There will be variables, and we’re all going to need to be patient with each other.”

“We have concerns for families who were counting on their children going back into the classrooms across the district, but now may be finding themselves in more polarizing positions if their middle school child’s school is open but their elementary school child’s is not,” said Hannan. “We find it unfortunate that there are still community members who believe that educators don’t want to be working in school. All educators want to be in school, but many can’t be in school, as exposure to COVID-19 will be a direct threat to them or a family member.”

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig said Monday she feels the revisions are needed given the safety policies in place across the district and concerns raised by parents over remote learning.

“The Manchester School District is going above and beyond when it comes to the safety of students, teachers and anyone else in our schools,” said Craig. She said school officials should work to “accommodate getting students back in who want to be back in, because they’ve lost in terms of education, social and emotional.”

“We need to account for that and get these kids back in school,” said Craig.

The change in metrics covers how school officials tally infection rates, switching from a daily average per 100,000 in Manchester over the prior 14 days to a sum total of infections per 100,000 over 14 days. The change provides flexibility for school officials to determine if a school should operate in remote or hybrid status.

As was the case in the fall, families have the option to keep students remote if they choose.

Educators are scheduled to receive COVID-19 vaccines in March, but Hannan said some MEA members have concerns over possible health effects.

“We have educators with compromised immune systems due to cancer and other diseases, children of educators who are medically fragile, elderly parents of educators who have severe complications and have yet to receive the vaccine,” said Hannan. “We have some who cannot take the vaccines due to life-threatening allergies or immune systems that would have detrimental effects from the vaccine. It is true that children generally have mild effects from COVID-19, and are often asymptomatic. But this means that adults around them won’t have any idea that this child carries the virus, and it can be passed on to others in their households who could have fatal reactions. Education personnel are not slated to start receiving the vaccine until March, and the way it is going so far, it is unlikely that we will see it start until April or May. With the need for a second vaccine three to four weeks later, educators won’t be vaccinated before the school year ends.”

A date of Jan. 25 was picked for a tentative return to hybrid date.

The motion to revise the metrics passed 10-3, with Art Beaudry, James Porter and Kathleen Kelley-Arnold opposed. Kelly Thomas and Joe Lachance were absent.

A copy of the revised metrics can be found attached to this story at unionleader.com, or at www.mansd.org.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021