Ed task force working on final report to reopen schools

A task force worked on its recommendations for how local districts could reopen public schools this fall. Here, Ellen Cushing, an education consultant, and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut presided over the remote meeting Tuesday.

CONCORD – A task force endorsed the requirement that school districts reopening classrooms this September make remote learning available for students at risk of contracting COVID-19, though several members objected to the demands that could pose.

Those members said this “hybrid” model could increase costs for school districts and tax teachers who would have to balance instruction inside and outside the school building.

Belmont Middle School teacher Keith Noyes said it’s unfair for a teacher with young children to have to spend time after school helping other students with remote learning.

“That’s a huge concern and a big ask of teachers,” Noyes said.

Phil Nazzaro, a member of the task force and the state board, said local districts must face the reality some students and staff won’t want to return.

“There are going to be immune-compromised students and staff that would not be able to come back into the classroom and we have to deal with that,” Nazzaro said.

The School Transition Reopening and Redesign Task Force plans to issue 10 preliminary recommendations by June 30 to Gov. Chris Sununu and state education officials for their review.

The task force’s survey of 41,000 parents in the state found 69% of them wanted to return to school this fall, and 13% didn’t. The other 18% were undecided.

Support among teachers was even higher, with 79% wanting to return.

“There is a strong desire to come up with solutions that bring students and staff back to the classroom,” said Ellen Cushing, a senior research and policy analyst with the American Institutes for Research, who is assisting the Department of Education on this effort.

Local control debated

Some on the task force disagreed over how much the state should dictate the terms of instruction.

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said the state’s tradition of local control calls for districts to have flexibility.

“We should not adopt a one-size fits all policy because that isn’t going to work,” said Carl Ladd, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association.

Amy Allen with the Manchester School District said best practices are necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that all schools must follow.

“If some districts are allowing some things and others aren’t, I think that is going to create some problems,” Allen said.

Nazzaro said teachers and administrators have to accept that 100% compliance won’t be possible with any set of rules.

“We could make all the recommendations in the world, and kids are going to do what kids do. They are going to congregate in the hall,” Nazzaro said.

The recommendations include creating district management and communication plans and setting public health standards, transportation policies, school meal delivery and instruction procedures.

The task force meets to finalize its work next Monday.