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School board chooses hybrid option for reopening

August 13, 2020
WOLFEBORO — The Governor Wentworth Regional School District Board voted 7-2 on Aug. 6 in support of reopening the 2020-2021 school year with a hybrid, or blended, model of instruction with a full remote learning option.

It also voted 8-1 to delay the start of the school year until Sept. 14 out of concern for the potential of Bike Week, which draws motorcyclists from across the nation to New Hampshire, to create a spike in the Covid-19 infection rate. New Hampshire rates have begun to slowly rise, and the delay would allow a two-week gap between Bike Week and opening day.

In a letter sent out to parents the next day, Superintendent Kathy Cuddy-Egbert announced the plan, adjusted in response to feedback (96 pages of emails said Board Member Tim Eldridge) and characterized the process as "challenging with no perfect solution...I'd like to think we have chosen the best imperfect solution of all the imperfect solutions."

The plan presently consists of in school instruction for Group A on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Group B on Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesday a remote learning day centered on re-teaching, pre-teaching, small group instruction, individualized help, and connection with families. Each school will work out the details for its student body.

Families may choose to engage in a remote learning option instead of the hybrid plan, but how the remote learning groups are formulated will depend on the results of a survey coming out the week of August 10 to ascertain the numbers of parents who choose the in school hybrid option, and transportation and technology needs.

The district will need to know how many people prefer that option in order to determine whether a GWRSD teacher will be available for a given group. There are some teachers who are uncomfortable going back to the classroom full time in consideration of personal health concerns or vulnerabilities of family members. The Virtual Learning Academy is a charter school that may be able to fulfill part of the remote learning option.

There are other considerations as well. Several parents, including a nurse and at least one board member, expressed distaste for the layers of mitigation in the classroom masks, three sided plastic shielding on desks, distance between the desks, lined up in straight rows, and distancing outside on the playground, with one parent questioning whether the board had the best interests of children in mind. He suggested it was "trying to coddle the hysteria."

Parents have also wondered aloud how they are going to manage child care or home instruction while working, whether at or away from home, no matter which option they choose. If their children go to school two days a week, that eliminates grandparents previously in the childcare pool who are not willing to take on the increased level of risk associated with broader community exposure. Teachers with children undoubtedly face the same dilemma.

School board member Wendi Fenderson spoke in support of the hybrid option, but expressed what perhaps a number of people feel, saying that she is concerned for the impact the virus is having on children's lives, and acknowledging that "as a nation... we are tired, and angry, and sad. We miss our normalcy... That saddens me greatly."

Member Charlene Seibel took a different view, "It's a deeply personal decision to send a child back to school during a pandemic," she said, elaborating that she could not vote to support the hybrid option when she wouldn't be able to send her own child if that were the choice if she currently had a child in the school system. It's illogical to go back to any in person learning when cases are rising in the state, and other states are experiencing horrific spikes, she added.

The board will continue to collect information and meet for further discussion. The Sept. 14 deadline buys a window of time to further planning for the school year.

Klumb Environmenta;
Varney Smith
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