August 13, 2020WOLFEBORO — "No doubt everyone wants our children back at school," Superintendent Kathy Cuddy-Egbert said at the start of the Governor Wentworth Regional School District (GWRSD) Board meeting on Aug. 3, held in the Kingswood Arts Center, "but we are trying to balance safety concerns. There are a number of opinions, with very little agreement and no plan yet."
School Board members and administrators, situated on the stage in a horseshoe shaped arrangement to enable ample distance from one another, were gathered to hear a presentation of a proposal under consideration. Parents in attendance were joined electronically by around 150 interested parties watching the proceeding as it was live streamed and recorded for You Tube by Wolfeboro Community Television.
The final report, 54 pages in all, of the 32 member Task Force, comprised of administrators, supervisors, teachers and guidance counselors from each of the ten district schools, included subcommittee reports on school reopening pertaining to Technology, Health and Safety Management, the Physical Plant, Teaching and Learning, Mental Health/Social Emotional Considerations, and Transportation and Food Service.
Full time face to face instruction is not an option in considetation of CDC guidelines, said Cuddy-Egbert, who added that cases of the coronavirus are on the rise in the last two weeks in our state.
"We have to adjust to the new normal, implement safety protocols and offer the best opportunity for safety and instruction," she noted.
The proposal that has emerged is a proposal for only half the student body to attend school on any given day in order to abide by Center for Disease Control guidelines for social distancing. That would be accomplished with a three day, two day schedule with each of two groups having three days of in school instruction followed by two days at home working on assignments, one week, with a reverse of that schedule the next week. Teachers would be in their classrooms five days a week.
Cuddy-Egbert said principals will work to coordinate family schedules the best they can, understanding the complication that mixed schedules could bring to family work schedules.
Remote instruction will be an option for parents who are reluctant to send their children to school, but classroom teachers will not also be responsible for remote instruction, unless school is shut down because of a Covid-19 alarm. In that case, they will pick up instruction by remote means. Cuddy-Egbert said just exactly how remote learning as an alternative to the so called blended program will take shape will depend on additional survey responses from parents. Until the numbers of students exercising that option are known, the plan would be to offer Virtual Learning Academy curriculum, a program separate from the GWRSD. If the numbers are high, the program could vary.
Families who do not care for either option may choose to home school their children. However, there are no separate resources for tutors or other expenses incurred.
While in school, masks will be required, appropriately placed desks will have three sided plastic shields, elementary students will have meals served in their self-contained classrooms, carpets will be washed frequently, students will have separate supplies, water fountains will be closed in favor of water stations, and the HVAC systems, using the highest grade filters, will be programmed for maximum air exchange.
Buses will only be allowed to transport 13 students maximum, so parents who are able to transport their children will be asked to do that.
As for technology, Chromebooks will be issued.
Full details of the plan are available on the GWRSD.org website, under the Agenda for the Aug. 6 meeting.
Parents used the public input time to advantage asking numerous questions. Cuddy-Egbert and the Board listened to concerns about potential crowding at the Carpenter School drop off and during lunch times, long term effects of mask wearing, sports (NHIA has delayed to after Labor Day), whether the Magic Moments program will be offered (likely not), and if bus drivers would be checking temperatures before students got on the busses. The superintendent said there is the possibility that could happen, with data entered into a software program, which would be transmitted to the school.
She answered a question on the startup of clubs and theater saying that she had just had a conversation with the director and found that the state is coming out with guidelines for safety.
Parents wanted to know if students could bring their own food to school — "absolutely fine" was the answer — and wanted assurance that the needs of students diagnosed with ADD would be taken into account with the programming changes that appear to be coming their way. They worried that special needs children would have the services they need, and expressed concern about childcare.
Many parents expressed support of the district's efforts to plan for school during times made difficult by the Covid-19 virus, but one father offered the opinion that the district should look at the CDC guidelines as advisory, not mandatory, and get on with school instruction. In his view, the media is exaggerating the threat.
"That's their job," he said.
A mother followed in that vein, asserting that the remote learning was poorly executed and teachers need better oversight.
"My children suffered," she said.
She rued the safety precautions that everyone has to endure when the risk of death is low.
By her math, "Potentially, two children could die," she said, prompting a response from a father who said he has two children.
"God forbid it would be one of my kids," he said, noting that the safety precautions also protect other family members. "This spring didn't go well for my son. The teachers didn't expect this to happen. Let's hope for a smooth transition, and stay healthy."
School board member Wendi Fenderson said the difficulties are nationwide, not just here. She stressed the importance of communication when difficulties arise, said she was proud of the teachers and the administration, and as the parent of a college student, said, "We do know what it feels like first hand."
Board Chairman Jack Widmer wrapped up the meeting, noting that he had received about a dozen texts during the meeting, and pointed to a stack of emails and letters that the board will read before making a decision. The next meeting is this Thursday, Aug. 6, at 7 p.m., again in the Kingswood Arts Center.