December 02, 2020MEREDITH — Inter-Lakes Schools will be on remote learning through Dec. 4 to give the schools extra time for testing and quarantining after Thanksgiving.
The Inter-Lakes School Board voted 5-2 in favor of having the schools go remote for the week after Thanksgiving during an emergency board meeting on Nov. 24.
Superintendent Mary Moriarty proposed that the schools remain in remote learning until Dec. 4 and return on Dec. 7. Moriarty said since the new school year started fully in person, there have been a total of 10 people in the schools who have tested positive. Moriarty said data is showing that COVID-19 cases have spiked in New Hampshire, inducing Belknap and Carroll Counties. There are also concerns that a number of people would be traveling and celebrating Thanksgiving with people, which could lead to increased transmission.
The state now has a requirement that people can quarantine for seven days and get a negative test and Moriarty said taking this extra time on remote learning would allow for people to do that.
A number of people spoke for and against this proposal at the meeting and in submitted comments. Many in favor supported the decision that would provide extra protection to students, faculty, and families.
Many opponents said in-person learning is better for the students and many students struggled under remote learning. At the same time, remote learning causes a strain on a lot of families who need to work and can't afford to stay home all day with their students. In response others made comments that the safety of students, faculty and staff and all their families was of greater importance.
Many said that the schools are already taking thorough precautions against transmission, such as masks, social distancing, and extensive cleaning. Opponents also said the district should trust that families are keeping safe.
"This seems to send the message that as a community we cannot behave ourselves: following distance guidelines, mask protocols, et cetera," wrote Greg Lefty. "There are state rules that address this as well as a daily questionnaire we have filled out for our children."
Some also said there are a number of people who wouldn't take safety precautions.
Another point against going remote was that students are a lower risk population. In response to this, some countered that adults in the buildings are more at risk as are students with health conditions and all students' families at home.
"Let us not make the decision based on the young age of our students and the assumption that that makes us a low risk community as a school," wrote Julie Hird. "The impact of a change in normal routine such as holiday activities can have major consequences for our faculty and students."
Some were also concerned that a few days of remote learning might set a precedent for the schools to return to remote learning for a longer period.
Board member Mark Billings asked if the district's COVID-19 Taskforce could make a decision on this the Monday before to see if school should be remote the whole week or if students could come back on Wednesday. Board member Lisa Merrill said it would be difficult for parents to take a different course at short notice.
Board member Nancy Starmer said while students may exhibit milder cases of the virus, she was especially concerned for the adults in the schools who are now frontline workers.
Board member Charley Hanson said Thanksgiving was the first major family holiday since the COVID-19 situation began and said the plan to go remote those extra four days made sense.
"I do believe we always have to think of the lowest common denominator; there will always be some people that maybe won't be as careful as others," Charley Hanson said.
Merrill and board member Duncan Porter-Zuckerman said they were nervous about the increasing numbers around the state and supported taking some extra time to go remote.
"We are at the beginning of a dark time and I think this is a reasonable opportunity to take a pause and limit some of the concerns we have, so I would support what's on the table," Porter-Zuckerman said.
Board Chair Richard Hanson and member Craig Baker, however, opposed the proposal.
Baker said the numbers of COVID-19 cases in the schools are nowhere near the statistics for the rest of the state because the schools and the families have been vigilant in taking safety precautions.
Hanson said he is "obsessed with keeping kids in the classroom." While he didn't want to put down remote learning, he said that is a tool to be used when necessary but isn't the best alternative. He said a lot of effort is being taken to keep the schools safe and they have become their own safe areas.
The board voted 5-2 in favor of having school go remote through Dec. 4 with Baker and Richard Hanson voting against.
Richard Hanson also addressed concerns about how he and the board didn't respond when at a previous meeting someone referred to coronavirus as "China virus." Since that meeting a number of people protested the board's silence. Hanson said that meeting was "fairly animated" with a lot of heated discussion and said he didn't think that was the time to address the comment.
"I want to make it unequivocally clear I found his use of that term offensive, negative, and, I'm not going to judge people by the words that they say, but it had all the appearances of being a very racist remark, but I did not respond at that time" Hanson said. "In hindsight maybe I should have, maybe I shouldn't have, but I didn't."
Hanson said he does not condone racist statements and the board doesn't either.