Dear SAU 70 School Community:
Last night, the SAU70 board voted by an 8-2 margin to approve the School Reopening Plan as presented by the School Start Task Force. This vote enabled the planning for the upcoming school year to enter the next phase, which includes intensive work by both the School Start Task Force at the SAU level, as well as Task Forces assembled at each of the schools in our district.
This was not an easy vote for the Board and the recommendation from the SAU Administration and members of the Task Force was based on months of research, discussion, and feasibility studies. The Administration did its best to include all voices in the planning process. It assembled an initial team of more than 30 people to staff the Task Force. This team included: Leadership of the SAU, Principals and Assistant Principals of each school, each school’s nurses, the Teacher Leaders of both the Hanover Education Association, the Norwich Education Association, the Hanover Support Staff and physicians with backgrounds in infectious disease, epidemiology, and pediatrics. Throughout the process, the Task Force conducted surveys of the community, teachers and staff, added members to the committee to include more representation from the schools, reviewed the latest scientific studies and guidance from the CDC and New Hampshire and Vermont’s Health Departments, and developed a plan that was then presented to the SAU70 Board.
Following the first Board presentation on July 23rd, the Task Force conducted Town Halls for the teachers and staff of the elementary schools and the teachers and staff of the middle and high school, a Human Resources-specific Town Hall for staff of the District, and a Town Hall attended by more than 500 community members.
Despite these efforts, it is understood that not all questions were answered, not all concerns were allayed, and not all felt their voices had been heard. Leading up to, during, and after the community Town Hall last week we received over 300 questions related to the opening plan (answers to these questions can be viewed on the SAU70 Reopening page) and last night we received a letter from representatives of the Hanover Education Association and heard from a number of teachers who expressed sincere reservations about the plan to reopen in person, as well as a number of community members who expressed similar concerns.
We want to honor all of the feelings and experiences that were expressed last night and thank everyone who bravely shared with over 200 people in public session. We believe that individual teachers and staff do not feel that their voice has been heard and we plan to work with them to answer their concerns. We also believe that the Task Force and Administration, throughout their planning process, thought that teacher and staff voices were being represented by their union leadership on the Task Force.
As you heard last night, the Task Force has been surprised this week by the teachers’ genuine sense of not being heard. By honoring what we understood to be the request for no teacher contact in July, it was never the Board’s or the Administration’s intention to leave teachers or staff out of the conversation. Nearing the conclusion of last night’s meeting, a member of the Task Force expressed frustration that no one had brought this up. The speaker said that this made some teachers’ feelings that they had been excluded from the planning process seem disingenuous. We understand that this characterization was upsetting and are sorry it was not addressed during the meeting last night. This situation has been a strain on everyone, and the prospects we face stir a great deal of emotion. It has been noted previously that the Administration was asked to work with the union leadership and give the teachers time over July, with minimal interruption. The Administration honored this reasonable request, working with HEA and NEA leadership, and committed to engaging more directly with all of our teachers after the July respite. As HEA and NEA leaders have acknowledged, this work is underway in each of our schools, and teachers will have a prominent role in further planning. At this point, we must come together to ensure an effective return to school.
To be clear, the vote in favor of the plan does not mean that those who expressed reservations were not heard. The Administration, Task Force, and Board, have taken to heart all of the concerns that have been expressed and are committed to working together with our teachers, our students, and our community, to develop the fine points of a plan that will provide the greatest level of safety, while providing opportunities for both in-person learning, as well as remote learning.
Two weeks ago, each school assembled their own Task Forces to implement the reopening plan. Each school is unique, so each plan will be unique. All schools are looking to options that include significantly increased learning time outdoors. They are all taking into account issues surrounding health and safety, especially with regard to lunch and snack time, recess, and other times when mandated mask use will not be possible. They are considering the cohort mixes of students and, at the high school are considering one remote learning day for planning and cleaning. Their plans for remote learning will be solidified as staffing and student enrollment numbers become clearer. The leadership of each school will provide updates on each of their Task Force’s progress over the course of the next three weeks, leading up to the first day of school on September 8th.
We would also like to note that the budget will be able to accommodate many adjustments that will undoubtedly need to be made this year. While the Dresden and Hanover Boards have not yet finalized the use of fund balances, the revised budgets are projected to at least match the Hanover and Norwich tax rates estimated prior to the March elections, and should still afford the flexibility to fund emergencies, such as staffing, infrastructure and technology needs, as well as those not yet considered that may arise during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Therefore, the respective Budget Committees were satisfied that Dresden and Hanover districts had adequate access to funding to endorse the affordability of the Taskforce Phase 3 proposal.
Over the next week, the Task Forces will also be identifying critical information requirements that they will need to gather and monitor. These requirements will help: (1) ensure the plans remain viable; (2) maintain safety at all our schools; and (3) ensure that our children’s learning experiences are of the highest possible quality. The requirements will capture myriad key aspects of our plans, as they relate to our students and families, our staff, our community, our facilities, and our supplies. The requirements will be tracked on a dashboard for use by the SAU and the schools’ leadership and will also be used to create decision points so that they can make changes to the plan to address changes in our community and schools.
We will continue to work with those teachers, staff, and community members who have expressed reservations about this plan and are committed to doing all we can to address the very understandable issues raised. We know we will not address everyone’s concerns. We know not all will be happy with the plan. But we know we will work together, as a community, to provide the best education we can for our students. That has always been our goal. The extraordinary circumstances of our time will not change that goal.