MANCHESTER, N.H. – Some, or even all, of Manchester’s public schools could be returning to a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction by the last week of January.
On Monday night, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) approved a modification of back-to-school metrics they had approved in late August that would automatically move schools into remote or hybrid instruction status based on local COVID-19 statistics.
With Monday’s decision, those statistics essentially will be going from one district-wide figure to 22 separate figures, one for each public school in the city. The move comes after the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services released their own guidance regarding metrics in late November, just as the BOSC recommended remote learning until at least Jan. 19.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig believes the move is needed given the infrastructure improvements and safety policies put into place by the district along with concerns voiced by many parents with difficulties faced in remote learning.
“The Manchester School District is going above and beyond when it comes to the safety of students, teachers and anyone else in our schools and what I believe our board has to do is how to accommodate getting students back in who want to be back in, because they’ve lost in terms of education, social and emotional. We need to account for that and get these kids back in school,” she said.
The synthesis of the state’s guidance and the original metrics will create a shift in how the school district counts infection rates in the back-to-school metrics, going from a daily average per 100,000 in the city over the prior 14 days to a sum total of infections per 100,000 in the city over the past 14 days. The color-coded risk levels will also remain in place, but with more flexibility for school and district-level leaders jointly determine whether a school should be in remote or hybrid status. However, Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt said that the possibility of placing all students within schools again at the same time will not come until infection levels drop well into the “green” risk level, which is less than 50 cases over a 14-day period under the new metrics.
Additionally, the state metrics also place higher importance on returning high school seniors back to school than the earlier city metrics. Any parents wishing to keep their students in remote learning can do so, all student-athletes will remain in remote learning until their seasons conclude and schools may also be moved into remote status if clusters (three or more infections related to each other) arise.
A date of Jan. 25 was chosen for a tentative return to hybrid date, giving the district more time to provide its staff COVID-19 safety training as well as assessing the second and third parts of the return-to-school metrics.
Currently, the district’s COVID-19 Dashboard does not have a breakdown on statistics for each school, although Manchester School District Director of Communications and Community Relations Andrew Toland expects that information to be available online in the near future.
Overall, the BOSC generally supported the idea, with James O’Connell (At-Large) believing that the board itself should follow suit and meet again in-person to set an example for district staff. However, there was some concern.
Arthur Beaudry (Ward 9) noted the fact that the pandemic has not abated overall in the state, with the Elliot Hospital recently stating that it has run out of beds. James Porter (Ward 1) said his wife works at a local hospital and told him last week was the worst week so far.
Although Porter believed eventual rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines may help along with other safety measures, he remained concerned.
“I want to be flexible; I want to get these kids in, but I’ve heard about all these experts that said winter would be the worst part (of the pandemic.),” he said.
The motion passed on a 10-3 vote, with Beaudry, Porter and Kathleen Kelley-Arnold (Ward 2) voting in opposition. Kelly Thomas (Ward 12) and Joseph Lachance (At-Large) were absent.
Details on the modified metrics can be seen below.