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Crotched Mountain Foundation to close campus in Greenfield

GREENFIELD — After a unanimous vote from its board of directors on June 1, Crotched Mountain Foundation is permanently closing its Greenfield campus by the end of the year.

The campus houses Crotched Mountain School — which provides special education services to students from kindergarten into early adulthood — as well as an adult residential program for people with disabilities.

Crotched Mountain officials said in an email Tuesday night that plans are for all students and residents to leave campus on or before Nov. 1.

The school serves 79 students, ages 8 to 21, primarily from New Hampshire, other New England states and New York, according to officials. There are 24 residents in the adult program.

The organization is also a temporary residence for kids removed from their homes by the N.H. Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).

But the cost to operate the large campus in Greenfield was unsustainable, and the foundation had worked for years to cut expenses, according to a news release from the foundation Tuesday evening announcing the upcoming closure.

This includes the 2017 closure of the campus’ hospital — which specialized in neurorehabilitation — after years of difficulty filling beds.

More recently, Crotched Mountain closed its daycare, citing financial instability.

In 2019, it transitioned Assistive Technology Services back to the state and underwent a budget reduction, which officials described as “drastic,” in an emailed response to The Sentinel Tuesday night.

“Crotched Mountain leadership also pursued potential partners to continue activities on campus, but there were no interested parties,” the email says.

In Tuesday’s announcement, President and CEO Ned Olney also cited the impact of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

“Like so many other organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic irrevocably altered our operations and, ultimately, our future on the mountain,” he said.

“COVID-19 required we suspend several of our revenue-generating service lines, suspend student enrollment, and increase spending to ensure the safety of our residents and staff,” he continued. “While we had no other option, this is nonetheless a heartbreaking decision.”

The pandemic’s impact hasn’t been solely financial for the Greenfield campus.

In March, the adult residential program had at least three residents and 11 employees test positive for COVID-19. One of the residents — a man in his 40s with underlying health issues — died. Another four employees of the program tested positive in May.

The foundation will work closely with area school districts, state agencies and families to ensure a “safe and appropriate transition” for residents, according to the release.

Robert Malay, superintendent of School Administrative Unit 29, said Tuesday night that a phone call from a Sentinel reporter was the first he’d heard of the closure.

SAU 29 covers the Keene, Chesterfield, Harrisville, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland school districts.

Although declining to give a specific number — due to privacy concerns — SAU 29 has students who get services from Crotched Mountain, and its closure will have an impact, Malay said.

SAU 29 officials will have to find new programs for those students to participate in so they can continue to receive the services they need, he noted.

Monadnock Regional School District has six students placed at Crotched Mountain School, one of which is there for residential purposes through DCYF, according to Director of Student Services Catherine Woods.

She noted in an email the district is unsure what the closure means for the residential student’s educational placement, as they are originally from a different school district.

“We are grateful for the 5 month notice of the closure so we can search for alternative placements for these students,” she said. “... The notice of the closure certainly came as a surprise and we have some families who are now a bit anxious ...”

And though ConVal Regional School District’s Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo-Saunders said in an email the district hasn’t had many students attend Crotched Mountain, there were several who used the campus’ pool for recreation and therapeutic needs.

“It is certainly a loss in our area,” she said.

Crotched Mountain’s news release said other services will continue, including the Ready Set Connect Autism Centers in Concord, Manchester and Tilton; case management; and accessible recreation and sports.

Crotched Mountain was the vision of philanthropist Harry Gregg, the grandfather of former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, and Dr. Ezra Jones, an orthopedic specialist, according to the organization’s website. It opened in 1953 in Greenfield with its first building, a 40-bed facility for children with polio.

In the years that followed, the facility expanded to provide treatment and rehabilitation services for adults and children with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. It also opened a school for the deaf in the 1970s and a center in 1961 for adult patients that included job training.

Reporter Meghan Foley contributed to this report.

The sun sets behind a glassy Pearly Pond in Rindge Monday.

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Officials seek ways to safely reopen schools in fall

Even though summer just began, education leaders locally and statewide are already busy planning for how to reopen schools in the fall.

“The overall feeling is, ‘Let’s get back to school, let’s find a way to make this work,” N.H. Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said Tuesday during a meeting of the state’s School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce.

Edelblut was referencing a statewide survey of parents and school officials, which he said revealed some tension between a strong desire to return to school in the fall, and lingering concerns about how to do so safely.

Several members of the 12-person task force, for example, noted that imposing social-distancing guidelines on students, especially younger children, will be difficult.

“We have to consider the data that said how realistic is it that students are actually going to follow social-distancing guidelines, are they going to congregate in groups,” said task force member Phil Nazzaro, who also serves on the state board of education. “So we could write all the recommendations in the world, but kids are going to do what kids are going to do, and they’re going to congregate.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, which was held virtually and came one week before the task force is scheduled to present its final recommendations to Sununu, Edelblut gave an overview of the results of the statewide survey on school reopening, and presented the group’s draft guidelines.

Nearly 56,000 parents and school officials took the survey, which was open from late May through early June. Sununu initially ordered schools to close March 16 and transition to remote learning due to concern over COVID-19, later extending that order through the end of this school year.

Among other topics, the reopening survey asked about preferred safety measures for schools. The most popular responses, according to data shared at the meeting, were temperature checks, social distancing, reduced class sizes and making personal protective equipment, like masks, available to students and staff.

Determining public health protocols — such as policies for social distancing and screening students, staff and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms — was one of 10 proposed recommendations the task force discussed Tuesday. Other draft guidelines include developing a hybrid model for schools to be able to operate in-person and remotely, supporting student, family and educator wellness and preparing school buildings by determining what sort of PPE will be required and evaluating school cleaning practices.

After the guidelines are finalized, school districts throughout the state can use them to make their own individual decisions for how to reopen safely.

Robert Malay, superintendent of N.H. School Administrative Unit 29, which includes Keene and six nearby towns, sits on the task force’s operations work group, one of six subgroups that helped the task force draft its recommendations. Malay said Tuesday that the task force has accomplished its goal of putting together guidelines for the governor to consider.

“And I think what a lot of districts are looking for is guidance coming from our state leader, to say, ‘This is what we are going to do,’ ” he said.

And while the state task force finalizes its recommendations for Sununu, SAU 29 districts are also beginning to develop their own reopening plans, Malay added. A survey of SAU 29 families and staff garnered nearly 2,700 responses before closing Tuesday morning. School leaders will analyze the results of the survey over the coming week before releasing a draft reopening plan for public feedback the week of July 6.

“So they’ll get another bite at the apple, so to speak,” Malay said. “And based on the feedback we get from the draft framework, we will put together a final plan of what it will look like with different possibilities for the return of the new school year.”

That final plan for SAU 29 schools is scheduled to be presented the week of July 20. In the meantime, Malay said everyone involved in the decision-making process needs to be patient.

“I think everybody wants to know what the plan is going to look like, but we’ve got to give the process its time to run its course so that we aren’t overlooking anything and we’re not rushing through,” he said. “So we want to stick to our timeline and make sure we’re being mindful of all the things that we need to be considering with whatever the opening of the school year’s going to look like.”