As New Hampshire educators and parents wait to hear how schools will reopen this fall, Catholic schools in the state plan to open with fully classroom-based instruction.
David A. Thibault, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Manchester, made the announcement Thursday while revealing a new incentive program that reduces tuition costs for students transferring from non-Catholic schools before Aug. 31.
“Since March, many parents have struggled to balance their own telecommuting with assisting in the education of their children at home,” Thibault said. “Teachers have missed the one-on-one interaction with their students, and students have missed their teachers and friends.”
Thibault said while everyone involved rose to the challenge this spring, the diocese recognizes remote learning is not ideal.
“That is why we made the determination to return to classroom instruction just as soon as possible,” Thibault said. “Over the last several weeks, we have worked with each school in the diocese to formulate a plan to reopen carefully and with appropriate safeguards in place to ensure the health of our faculty and staff, students, their families and the community at large.”
“While we continue to work with the experts at the New Hampshire Department of Education and are prepared to adjust our plans should a public health emergency arise again, we look forward to welcoming our students back, in person, this fall,” Thibault said.
Thibault’s announcement included information about the creation of a Transfer Incentive Program for newly enrolled students in all schools in the diocese: Any student in grades 1-8 transferring from a non-Catholic school will receive a $1,000 grant toward tuition the first year and $500 for the second year. Any student in grades 9-12 transferring from a non-Catholic school will receive a $2,000 grant toward tuition the first year and $1,000 toward the second year.
The Transfer Incentive Program is not need-based, said Tom Bebbington, a diocesan spokesman.
Alison Mueller, director of marketing, enrollment, and development for Catholic schools, said a recent survey found eight out of 10 parents reported that their child missed interactions with classmates and teachers.
“We’re calling this the ‘See You in Class!’ campaign,” she said. “We want as many young people as possible to join our wonderful communities. We’ll see them in class, in person, this fall.”
Bebbington said if COVID-19 cases surge during the school year, and the governor orders public schools to close as he did this past spring, the decision on whether to close Catholic schools and the circumstances under which they resume rests with Bishop Peter Libasci.
“But the Catholic Church recognizes the legitimate role of government in these types of circumstances,” said Bebbington. “We will continue working in cooperation with state officials to keep students and those with whom they may later come into contact safe, and our teachers are taking professional development courses this summer on remote learning in case we need to make that pivot this fall.”
Bebbington said school officials haven’t tackled the topic of potential tuition refunds if schools move to remote learning again.
“Our focus right now is on reopening our schools in a safe and responsible way, and on precautions to keep our students and those with whom they may later come into contact safe,” said Bebbington. “We have not formulated a diocesan policy on tuition refunds and sincerely hope one won’t be necessary, but each individual school is prepared to work with parents should a public health emergency arise that necessitates the closure of schools again.”
Parents who are interested in learning more should contact the school directly for details.
A list of Catholic schools is available at www.catholicschoolsnh.org.
Gov. Chris Sununu is expected to provide details for how schools should re-open this fall by mid-July, possibly next week.
A task force convened by the New Hampshire Department of Education to determine possible restrictions has sent its final recommendations to the governor.
The recommendations stress the need to plan for multiple options next school year, including in-person instruction with new safety guidelines, continued remote learning and a hybrid model of remote and in-person instruction.
Task force members also recommend that districts alter their transportation plans, in anticipation of a potential shortage of bus drivers and PPE if districts offer in-person instruction.
NEA-NH, the state’s largest teachers’ union, reported recently that in response to a survey, 75% of its members said they were not comfortable returning to the classroom without a vaccine or effective treatment, and 95% believed a hybrid model of remote and in-person instruction represents a change in working conditions and could violate their current contracts.