MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Monday night, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) voted by a 10-5 vote to put almost all students at Manchester’s public schools into remote learning status from Nov. 23 to Jan. 19, with remote learning status potentially going even longer if needed.
The move came from a request by Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt after learning last week from a survey about staff members’ holiday travel plans. In that survey, Goldhardt discovered that enough staff are expecting to travel outside New England that it would be impossible to return to a partial in-person learning model after the Thanksgiving break without violating the required two-week quarantine protocol for anyone travelling outside of New England.
Goldhardt said that the quarantine could be waived for staff members travelling outside of New England since they are considered as essential workers, but did not feel comfortable doing so for safety reasons.
Dr. Nicole Leapley (Ward 11) was one of the five members of the board opposed to the motion, believing that ignoring the metrics set by the BOSC earlier in the year would deny staff, students and parents a predictable and transparent way to know when schools would transition in and out of remote status.
She also noted that within Goldhardt’s survey, only 9.8 percent of staff that responded said they would travel for Thanksgiving and only 16 percent said they would travel for Christmas, also noting that they might have acted differently if they knew of new travel restrictions in other states.
And although the district cannot prohibit staff from travel, Leapley felt that scheduling the end date at Jan. 19, which would account for a two-week quarantine following the Christmas break would accommodate staff travel, which she felt was inappropriate.
Joseph Lachance (At-Large) felt frustrated that the staff were being treated differently than employees in a private company would be, given the same circumstances.
“I don’t understand why we are putting our district our students and our taxpayers in this situation, it doesn’t make sense. I am very concerned,” he said.
Kathleen Kelly-Arnold (Ward 2) ultimately supported the return to remote status, but reluctantly given a fear that ignoring the metrics could make people feel that there is nothing they can do to prevent remote learning, which no one on the BOSC wants if possible, and they would ultimately take safety less seriously.
The majority of the board expressed concern with rising COVID-19 infection rates and other statistics such as New Hampshire’s 500th COVID-19 death earlier in the day and a 120 percent spike in infections during Canada’s recent Thanksgiving holiday.
If the district remains in the “red” portion of the metrics as of Jan. 19, the remote-learning will continue as long as needed, with Kindergarten through eighth grade returning to school immediately.
The motion was supported by Kelly Arnold, James Porter (Ward 1), Karen Soule (Ward 3), Leslie Want (Ward 4), Dan Bergeron (Ward 6), William Shea (Ward 7), Arthur Beaudry (Ward 9), Jane Beaulieu (Ward 10), Kelly Thomas (Ward 12), and Mayor Joyce Craig.
Lachance and Leapley were joined by At-Large member Jim O’Connell, Peter Perich (Ward 8) and Jeremy Dobson (Ward 5).
Under the formula set by the metrics, all students outside of special education students and other students with certain needs would have gone into remote learning status on Nov. 23 for at least two weeks regardless of the BOSC’s decision on Monday night.
Under the motion, in-person education would continue self-contained classes, IEP students already identified to come in four days a week, high-need English Learners (same ones who have been receiving in-person 4-days a week), and identified CTE programs at MST (Fire, Aviation, LNA). However, this is all dependent on staffing.