Sununu orders last few schools in all-remote learning to offer in-person education

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Inside a public high school in Manchester, students must use certain stairwells for up or down. Photo/Sarah Gibson, NHPR

While nearly all school districts in the state are offering in-person learning or a hybrid model, where students take classes in-person some days and at home others, Gov. Chris Sununu has ordered the remaining districts still in a fully-remote model to switch to at least some in-person learning.

Sununu signed an executive order Friday that mandates all districts in the state to offer at least two days a week of in-person learning to students by March 8.

“There’s no doubt that allowing these kids — everyone, everyone across the state — to in an in-person model is going to have beneficial effects for these children,” said Sununu during a press conference Thursday.

While many New Hampshire schools adopted a fully-remote learning model early in the pandemic, only a few districts have not reopened school buildings to the general student population. Those districts – including Dover, Somersworth, and Nashua – are already in the process of rolling out a hybrid model, with a focus on younger grades and at-risk and special education students first. 

According to the state Department of Education, a number of charter schools in the state also remain in a fully remote model but have plans to transition to hybrid soon.

Sununu stressed the need for in-person access wasn’t just about education achievement, but also student mental health.

“It isn’t just so the kids come back and a more fuller, more robust learning model. It really is for the behavioral and mental health, the isolation issue, that so many of our students have been bearing with,” he said.

Sununu has had harsh words in recent weeks for the state’s teacher unions, which have criticized the governor for failing to include educators in the earliest phases of the state’s vaccine rollout.

Some staff – including nurses – have already received the vaccine, but the vast majority of K-12 teachers fall into Phase 2A of the process. Phase 2A was slated to begin in March but may be pushed into April, depending on vaccine supply.

The emergency order allows individual students to continue opting for a fully remote model even if their school is in-person. Schools are allowed to transition to a remote model for 48 hours because of COVID-19 infections or staffing shortages related to the pandemic. However, they must receive permission from the state Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the state health department, to keep schools closed longer than two days.

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