Dear SAU 70 School Community,
This summer has brought more uncertainty and anxiety to our “back to school” process than any in memory. As the course of the pandemic progresses and social tensions rise, fear and anxiety continue to grow as well. Despite our worries, we in the school community know that we need to prepare for school to start. We live in a caring community that values education, and now more than ever, we will need to come together to support our children and our schools.
As I shared in prior communication, our SAU 70 School Start Task Force has been busy planning for three possible reopening scenarios as we awaited guidance from our state education agencies: remote, in-person, and hybrid models. Vermont published it’s “Strong and Healthy Start: Safety and Health Guidance for Reopening Schools” on June 17, 2020 and New Hampshire released its “New Hampshire Grades K-12 Back-To-School Guidance” on July 14. Both documents avoid state mandates, leaving much of the decision-making to local school boards and administrations. Nevertheless, both states clearly advocate for a planned physical reopening of our schools for the 2020-21 school year. Working with local medical authorities, following American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC guidance, and taking into account the progression of the virus in our area, our Task Force will be recommending that we follow state guidelines and prepare for a physical reopening. Tomorrow evening, the SAU 70 Board will consider the Task Force’s preliminary recommendations, which will include:
A delayed start date for students. The NH DOE has approved a three-day adjustment period that will allow schools to familiarize their staffs with new health and safety protocols and to prepare classrooms. The Commissioner has informed us that these days will count toward our mandated 180 days of instruction. For our schools, this means that August 27, 28, and 31 will be non-attendance days for students. In addition, we are creating plans to provide four days of mixed remote and in-person instruction for our students and families to familiarize them with our new protocols from September 1-4, so that our first day of regular in-person instruction will be Tuesday, September 8.
Implementation of American Academy of Pediatrics guidance for social distancing in schools. Our Task Force will recommend adopting the American Academy of Pediatrics guidance with regard to social distancing in schools. The AAP recommends balancing social distancing with children’s educational, social, emotional, and mental well-being needs. Combined with growing research that indicates lower rates of infection and transmission among children and between children and adults, they suggest a three-foot social distancing guideline for students, combined with other precautions including cloth face coverings. To protect our employees, we will base our planning on CDC recommendations of 6-foot distancing for adults. You can find the AAP guidance document at the following link:
Implementation of emerging best practices in health management. In addition to requiring cloth face coverings, our Task Force is creating protocols for health screening, outbreak management, contact tracing, hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting, student grouping, bus transportation, movement within buildings, and a long list of other public health considerations. The SAU is committed to providing thorough training and professional development for students, families and employees as soon as these protocols are completed.
These are not recommendations that we make lightly, as we are committed to doing everything we can to keep our community safe and healthy. While we can’t predict the local course of the pandemic, we will be creating contingency plans for any conversion to remote or hybrid instruction that becomes necessary. In addition to our health management and safety protocols, our Task Force work groups are developing protocols in the areas of Operations, Teaching & Learning, Whole Child Supports, Communication, Facilities, Transportation, and Governance & Policy. All of these work groups are using current science, researching the plans and experiences of other districts both in the US and internationally, reviewing the advice of professional organizations, and consulting state guidance documents as they work out the details. We intend to have most of these protocols finalized by August 10th.
Thankfully, we began the return-to-school planning process in June. Members of our SAU 70 school community—students, staff, and parents—continue to express their strong desire to return to school in-person this fall. About 80% of our families have responded to our recent survey, and 80% of respondents favored an in-person return to school, provided that we take appropriate precautions. Our Task Force is also sensitive to the concerns of the 20% of respondents who are not yet able or willing to return their children to school in person. We continue to work on accommodating their needs as well, mindful of equity concerns. In any event, our teachers are eager to see their students again and our children are eager to learn with their friends in their classrooms. While much of our ongoing planning involves the complex detail of health precautions to keep our students and employees safe, we continue to base our work on a commitment to live and work together as a community, to provide an outstanding education for our students, to recognize our interdependence, and to care for each other. I will continue to keep you informed as we finalize our plans.
Dr. Jay Badams
Superintendent of Schools