Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
This week has been an incredible challenge for New Hampshire families and educators. With Gov. Sununu’s order to shift all public schools to remote instruction, our school administrators, faculty, and staff and the families they support have had to craft new ways to teach New Hampshire students who aren’t in the building.
Some schools were ready to go on Monday. Some worked over the weekend and the beginning of this week to get ready. And some will begin remote instruction on Monday. This is a new challenge. Teachers are learning new ways to teach, and students are exploring new ways to learn. Because this process is so new, many people across New Hampshire have questions. I’d like to answer some of the most common questions we’ve received at the Department of Education.
How will these days when students aren’t in school be made up? Will seniors be able to graduate in June?
Remote instruction days are instruction. Both preparing for and conducting remote instruction count towards your school’s 180 days. We do not anticipate schools having trouble reaching 180 days of instruction, but the Department of Education will give districts as much flexibility as possible in meeting this requirement. Districts who fall short of 180 days can request a waiver from the State Board of Education.
Remote instruction is a different way to deliver the same high-quality education to our students, and will count toward graduation. Every parent and educator in the U.S. wants to know what this unprecedented situation means for high school seniors. We anticipate that New Hampshire high school seniors who complete their required course work remotely will be able to graduate on time.
Why are teachers still coming to work if students have been sent home? Are they at risk?
The purpose of sending students home for remote instruction was to reduce the risks inherent in large crowds. Without students in attendance, the risk of spread in schools among faculty and staff is much lower. We still have a responsibility to educate New Hampshire children. School districts should practice healthy safeguards, such as cleaning all surfaces regularly, hand-washing, and social distancing among staff. Some school districts may be able to let educators provide instruction from their homes directly to students. Educators should address concerns about their districts’ remote instruction plans with their superintendents.
How are special education students going to be taught?
This is a question we have worked on very carefully to make sure we do not let any of our students fall behind. Some special education students will be able to receive support services in a remote instruction environment. Other services may require face-to-face, small group, or one-on-one delivery at the school or other location. These represent very low risk for the spread of COVID-19. For those students we cannot serve during this period, we will work with local districts to provide compensatory services.
Will part-time and contract school staff be paid?
Each school district is crafting its own remote instruction plan, but we anticipate that schools will still have need of contract and part-time staff. We would encourage local districts to deploy all available resources in support of remote instruction and remote support.
For staff that is displaced, Gov. Sununu has signed an executive order providing that individuals who are unable to work or who have reduced hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic will have immediate access to unemployment benefits.
How will schools know that the audio and video conference apps comply with local, state, and federal regulations, such as privacy?
RSA 189:66, V requires the Department of Education to establish minimum standards for privacy and security of student and employee data, based on best practices, for local education agencies. This statute also requires each local education agency to develop a data and governance privacy plan. On March 18, 2020, the Governor established the state minimum standards for privacy and security of student and employee data as the statewide standard for all schools during this state of emergency.
How are working parents supposed to care for their school-aged children if they can’t miss work?
This is an “all-hands-on-deck” moment and all of you have been so incredibly supportive. All of us, school leaders, educators, community leaders, and families, parents and caregivers, all have a role to play in the support of our children and their education.
Your school-aged student may be responsible enough to access remote instruction and support independent of adult supervision. You could also decide if older children could responsibly supervise younger children in a babysitting situation. Younger children, such as those K-6, will need adult supervision in a remote instruction and support environment.
Ideally, this supervision would come from a parent, caregiver, or trusted adult of the family. This will be the case for many New Hampshire families. Where this is not an option, we encourage (and are working with) local community support organizations (clubs, community libraries, etc.) to support families. The obvious question is that if children cannot attend school, how can they participate in community programming. This type of programming would be limited in the number of participants so that risk of infection with COVID-19 is lower.
People that need to care for a dependent because of school closures, child care facility closures or other similar types of care programs are also eligible for immediate unemployment benefits.
Can families receive school breakfasts and lunches?
We have received two waivers from USDA to help districts provide school meals. At this time, not all meals are free at all locations, but we are seeking more flexibility for districts to be reimbursed for all meals costs. In the meantime, contact your local school to find out how they are distributing meals, and if there is a cost.
How long does COVID-19 survive on paper and other materials?
The virus that causes COVID-19 transmits by respiratory droplets. Its ability to survive on paper has not been studied. There are studies of experimental contamination that shows the virus can survive for hours and, in some cases, days. This is another reason that hand hygiene is so important.
It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, and routine cleaning and disinfection should also help prevent spread of COVID-19 through surfaces.
How are low-income families and families in areas without broadband going to access remote instruction?
Many schools are providing laptops for their students. Comcast is offering free internet access for families that can’t afford it. And in areas with low broadband coverage, school districts are providing hard copies of materials. Remote instruction does not necessarily mean online, and many schools are using analog methods. school districts are working hard to provide remote instruction and support to students regardless of access to technology.
I have been astounded by the tremendous response of New Hampshire families and educators to this unprecedented challenge. Check the Twitter hashtag #NHLearnsRemotely to see for yourself. Remote instruction plus remote support equal remote learning for our children. We will continue to support our schools and families while keeping our kids healthy and learning.
Frank Edelblut is Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education.