December 02, 2020After a vote by the Gilford School Board, Gilford schools will continue remote learning through Dec. 4 and return on Dec. 7 due to a number of students and staff having coronavirus and a large amount quarantining. The majority of the board rejected a recommendation by the superintendent to stay on remote through the end of Christmas vacation.
The Gilford School Board made these decisions during Tuesday's meeting after extensive public comment and discussion from community members.
In the past few weeks a few students and staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and a number of others have been quarantined after contact tracing. This has resulted in concerns about staffing shortages, one main example being how the entire sixth grade was back to remote learning because all the teachers were in quarantine.
Superintendent Kirk Beitler recommended that Gilford High School and Gilford Middle School go remote from Nov. 30 to Dec. 23 with students coming back after the Christmas break. No recommendation was made for Gilford Elementary School, though Beitler said the elementary school's model would be based on staffing levels.
Responses from residents and the school board were mixed with many opposed and in favor of the option.
Many parents encouraged the board to go with remote learning, several citing the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases. A number of parents said their children were in quarantine or had been in quarantine more than once and talked about the anxiety this has caused.
Nancy Allen said on some days only a quarter of the students are left in the classes.
"While remote learning is not optimal, it could go a long way to address the learning needs of students at this time," Allen said.
A number who spoke against the proposal said learning was best done in the classroom and not remotely. There were numerous examples of students who had been struggling with remote learning who were thriving in-person.
Another view expressed was that most cases have been coming from in the community and not in the schools, especially with the schools adhering to strict guidelines.
Math teacher Peter Bowler said he and his wife had COVID-19 and was opposed to the schools going remote. He said the kids are safest in the schools with mask wearing and extensive cleaning and they have been doing better in person.
"From my standpoint we've only had kids a few weeks, but I've seen such a progress in those kids," Bowler said.
Some other parents suggested they go with a hybrid model between in-person learning and remote.
Board member Gretchen Gandini made the motion to follow Beitler's recommendation. Gandini said she understood that remote learning wasn't ideal, though said they aren't addressing students' needs when so many are in and out on quarantine.
"I don't necessarily think the numbers are going to be a lot better come January, but at least we can get a month in of consistent teaching," Gandini.
Board chair Chris Donovan, however, suggested they continue remote learning until Dec. 4 when most of the current quarantines would clear and then see where the numbers are before going forward.
Gandini said if students come back then so many will be coming back from Thanksgiving celebrations and numbers could go up. Staying out until January would give them a few weeks for cases to clear.
A few board members advocated for keeping students in school physically as the best way to learn. Board member Kyle Sanborn said there is going to be an ebb and flow of cases, saying he is not comfortable dedicating too much time to remote learning.
The motion to continue remote learning at GHS until Dec. 23 failed though a motion for in-person learning to resume on Dec. 7 passed.
On the middle school, Beitler said that school is more contained than the high school with each grade level moving and learning within their own pods. Beitler said there were 21 students in quarantine in the sixth grade after one student tested positive. The teachers, however, are in a different position because they will work closely with all the students and don't keep in similar pods. Because of this all sixth grade teachers are out and as a result the whole sixth grade is out due to the lack of staffing. GMS Principal Peter Sawyer said it would be difficult to isolate the teachers in a similar way: they would have to stay right at their desks and not have any physical interactions with the students.
The board approved a motion for students to return to in-person learning on Dec. 4.
In both cases, the board would meet to review the numbers before school restarted on Dec. 7.