More than a dozen Keene State College residential life staff members have resigned in the first two weeks of school during the campus’ reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fourteen residential life employees — three professional staff members, five head resident assistants and six other RAs — have left their positions, college spokeswoman Kelly Ricaurte said Friday. Keene State employs a total of 57 student RAs.
The college has already filled one of the professional roles, a residence director, and has candidates for all of the other openings, which the college expects to fill within the next few weeks, Ricaurte added.
Keene State is evaluating the position previously held by one of the people who resigned, the assistant director for residential education, and may not fill that role moving forward, Ricaurte said.
Jordan Dawson, a senior at Keene State and an RA in the Owl’s Nest residence, has not resigned his position, but said his peers who have left their roles did so because they were not comfortable with the college’s reopening plan.
“Obviously, there’s no perfect plan for everything,” Dawson, a public health major from Vernon, Conn., said in a phone interview Wednesday. “There’s going to be issues with everything. Not opening would have caused issues, but also I think their plan wasn’t solid enough, and there were too many holes in the plan.”
Specifically, Dawson said he wished the college would have delayed reopening to give residential life staff members more time to voice their concerns to school leaders. Keene State did push back the opening of its dorms last week after about a quarter of its on-campus residents had yet to receive the results of their mandatory pre-arrival COVID-19 tests. Students living in the dorms were supposed to move back Aug. 24-26, but instead moved back last Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
“But I don’t think [that] was enough to fully prepare,” Dawson said. About 60 percent of the college’s roughly 3,200 students live in one of Keene State’s 11 on-campus residence halls.
Dawson, who is in his third year as an RA, is currently in quarantine after he came into contact last week with a student who tested positive for COVID-19, and said he plans to use the remainder of his quarantine, which is scheduled to run through Sept. 10, to determine if he’ll return to his role as an RA.
“When I can come back to campus, I’d like to see what their updated plan is, if anything has changed,” Dawson said.
In the meantime, school leaders have been meeting regularly with residential life staff members, including RAs, to listen to their concerns and work to address them, Keene State President Melinda Treadwell said.
“What I’ve committed to, and what we’ve been doing the last two weeks, is we’re meeting with them, we’re taking action,” Treadwell said in a phone interview Friday. “... And I’ve been really proud of both our RAs for raising their voices, and the staff and faculty here who’ve been part of meetings and long discussions with them, and then specifically taking action to help them see that, when they raise concerns, we address them.”
Treadwell added that the resignations from the residential life staff created “a fluid situation in the early days, and now I think it’s stabilized.”
“I care about them feeling that they’re being heard and that they see action in response to concerns or questions that they raise,” Treadwell said of residential life staff. “And I’m proud that we’re doing that now. I wish we’d been able to do it sooner for them because we may have been able to avoid some of the loss of people [in those positions].”
Overall, Treadwell said she believes Keene State’s reopening plan “is working remarkably well” thus far. The school on Friday completed its first round of mandatory on-campus testing for all students, faculty and staff members. Negative COVID-19 test results were also required before any students, faculty or staff members were allowed on campus.
A total of seven students, but no faculty or staff members, tested positive during their pre-arrival screening, according to the Keene State COVID-19 dashboard, which the school launched on its website Friday. Five of those students have not entered campus yet, Treadwell said Friday, while one is in isolation on campus, and the other is in isolation in her off-campus apartment.
Keene State will receive the results of its first round of campus-wide testing within the next two days or so, Treadwell added. The college will conduct another round of mass testing next Thursday and Friday at the Spaulding Recreation Center.
During those tests, as with campus-wide tests this week, students, faculty and staff members will take their own nasal swabs under the supervision of medical professionals. After next week’s tests, everyone on Keene State’s campus will take a weekly COVID-19 test by collecting their own sample and returning it to a designated drop-off location on campus.
“This will allow us, after two times with medical supervision, we will be self-swabbing for a weekly sample survey for every member of the community,” Treadwell said. After taking their COVID-19 tests, Keene State students and employees receive a wristband, with a different color each week, confirming they have submitted their sample for testing.
“This week, it’s a green band, and we all have them,” Treadwell said. “And if you don’t have a green band, you cannot enter interior spaces of the campus,” including buildings and classrooms.
Anyone who tests positive at Keene State will be required to isolate, either by returning home or reporting to a designated space on campus, until they receive a negative test result. The college, in collaboration with Cheshire Medical Center, is also conducting contact tracing when it learns of a COVID-19 case, and requiring anyone who comes into contact with someone who tests positive to quarantine for 14 days.
“And we have been very successful doing that,” Treadwell said. “So, so far so good on that. That is how we can hope to limit any spread of the virus, if it does get into the population.”
Treadwell added that she has been pleased with how well students have followed Keene State’s COVID-19 protocols, such as wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
“We all had a lot of concern under our plan that the physical distancing and mask-wearing would be a really big challenge, [but] our students have been remarkable,” She said.
Treadwell also said that Keene State expected, and planned for, the presence of COVID-19 on campus, and that she is confident in the plan moving forward.
“The next two weeks will be critical for us,” she said. “We will either find that all of our restrictions and this aggressive testing are going to help us to sustain — and I’m feeling confident that we can at this moment — and again, if the test results start showing us something different, then we will act very accordingly and decisively.”
A former longtime executive councilor hoping to reclaim his seat is running against a former Senate majority leader in the GOP primary for the N.H. Executive Council’s District 5.
The district covers Fitzwilliam, Jaffrey, Richmond, Rindge, Swanzey and Troy in Cheshire County; Antrim, Peterborough and other communities in Hillsborough County; and part of Merrimack County.
The Republican candidates, former state Sen. Bob Clegg of Hudson and former Executive Councilor David Wheeler of Milford, will face off in Tuesday’s primary.
Incumbent Debora Pignatelli of Nashua is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination. The general election is Nov. 3.
The state’s five executive councilors serve two-year terms, with responsibilities that include approving appointments to state positions, signing off on state contracts valued at more than $10,000 and overseeing the state’s 10-year highway plan.
Here’s a look at the Republican field:
Bob Clegg, 66, has been in politics for more than two decades, according to his campaign website.
He served in the N.H. House of Representatives from 1996 to 2000 and the N.H. Senate from 2002 to 2008, part of that as majority leader.
Before entering politics, Clegg owned construction companies for more than 25 years, according to his website. He currently purchases and restores historic homes in the state.
He is the president of Pro-Gun NH and has previously held roles as president of the Hudson Taxpayers Association and chairman of the State Building Code Review Board.
Clegg said in an email Thursday that his main priorities are ending no-bid contracts for what he said are politically connected special interests, creating more transparency in the Executive Council and ensuring clean and safe drinking water.
On the first issue, Clegg said no-bid contracts are bad for the taxpayer.
“I’ve worked in an industry requiring bids my whole life ... instead of taking the time to request bids from qualified bidders, we hear that it’s just easier to give it to a sole source and the Executive Council rubber stamps it,” he said.
Regarding the council’s transparency, he said he’s had problems with streaming its meetings and accessing meeting minutes online.
Clegg said he also wants to address water contamination issues, specifically pointing to areas such as the town of Merrimack, where he said this is a “major problem.”
The town has grappled with harmful chemicals in its public water supply for years, with the controversy spiking when two wells were closed down in 2016. Since then, residents have been vocal in demanding cleaner water, as reported by several news outlets.
If elected, Clegg said he would hold polluters accountable.
He applauded the state’s COVID-19 response, but said he thought New Hampshire was too slow in reopening its economy.
David Wheeler, 61, is running for his sixth term on the Executive Council. He previously served District 5 from 2001 to 2005, 2011 to 2013 and 2015 to 2019.
Wheeler was also in the state Senate for several years in the 1990s, and was a state representative from Milford before that.
He is the owner of Maranatha Carpet & Construction and Miracle Acres Farm, both in Milford. The farm grows Christmas trees and produces maple syrup, according to his campaign website.
The website says Wheeler wants to protect the Second Amendment. Specifically, Wheeler said he opposed a proposed “red flag” law, which Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed this year. It would have allowed for the temporary confiscation of firearms if a judge determines the owner at risk of harming themselves or others.
In an email, Wheeler said he is running for the council to “ensure the values of Granite Staters are fully represented.”
“For more than three decades I have devoted myself to serving the people of New Hampshire and ensuring that the Live Free or Die way of life is around for my grandchildren,” he said.
Wheeler said he wants to focus on the state’s “massive” deficit caused by the shutdown of businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. If elected, he said he would cut wasteful spending and ensure the state operates efficiently while not overcharging taxpayers.
He added that New Hampshire’s model of no income or sales tax and low levels of government regulation has “worked for hundreds of years,” and he plans to preserve it.
“Calls to grow government, implement new taxes and mandates, or change our State into Massachusetts must be absolutely rejected,” Wheeler said.
This story has been updated to correct the organization for which Clegg serves as president.
Editor’s note: The Sentinel is previewing all contested primary races covering area communities. Tell us what you want the candidates to be talking about as they compete for your vote via our Voter Values survey at www.sentinelsource.com/vote.
When Jenn Stanowski’s daughter, Jasmine, started remote learning at Keene Middle School in the spring, her mother knew it was going to be a difficult transition.
The 13-year-old, who has been diagnosed with autism and an intellectual disability, does best when she has consistency. That made the switch “extremely challenging,” her mother said.
“Remote learning was really not vibing with her,” Stanowski, of Keene, said. “It wasn’t working for her.”
After working with the school district to find a better option, Stanowski enrolled Jasmine as an out-of-district placement at Ashuelot Valley Academy, a special-education school that opened in the former Keene Middle School on Washington Street in October. This fall, Jasmine will attend the academy in person five days a week, which Stanowski said was a major factor in her decision.
“Everything has to be pretty strictly routine, and it was really hard with coronavirus as it was; that threw her for a loop. So that’s pretty important for me that she be able to have that,” Stanowski said. “Especially because a child like Jasmine, with the special needs that she has, the more that they are away from school, the harder it is and the worse it gets.”
As New Hampshire school districts prepare to resume classes, some parents of students receiving special-education services are anxious about what the school year will look like. At the same time, educators are working to ensure that these students continue to receive services in the unique remote and hybrid environments many schools are operating under amid the pandemic.
According to Catherine Woods, director of student services for the Monadnock Regional School District, services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy and even physical therapy continued via videoconference when the district switched to remote learning in the spring. This summer, the district was able to perform special-education evaluations that were delayed due to the pandemic, and has been working to update students’ individualized education programs, or IEPs, she said.
“For the fall and really here on out, as always, we are focusing on the ‘I’ in IEP, and we’re making decisions about children based on that one child,” Woods said. “… So for our kids with disabilities, we are making individual plans for them in terms of how their special education and services are going to be provided.”
The district, which encompasses six Monadnock Region towns, is offering both remote and hybrid learning models this semester, with students who opt for the hybrid model attending school in person two days a week. Special-education services will be delivered both remotely and in person depending on the student, Woods said.
Troy mom Lena Doubleday, whose son Jackson, 8, has ADHD, said she chose the remote model because her husband travels outside of New England for work. Under the district’s reopening plan, that means Jackson would have had to stay home and quarantine every time his dad traveled, further disrupting his learning routine.
Jackson is starting third grade at Troy Elementary School this year and will have regular meetings with a reading specialist, writing specialist and speech therapist on Zoom. Doubleday said she still has concerns about remote learning, but she’s not sure going back to the classroom would have been a better option because of the changes COVID-19 has prompted.
“I think everybody realizes it’s a challenge on both ends. And unfortunately, it’s just the choice that we’re left with. There is no way for him to go face-to-face right now,” she said. “… And in a setting that’s so out of the norm from what he was used to when school ended in March, I honestly think it would be more detrimental for him to try to handle that.”
Leading up to the start of the semester, Doubleday said she was frustrated that more information wasn’t available for parents over the summer, but said the district has worked hard to answer her questions in recent weeks.
“I also understand that there’s no magic key. Nobody’s going to come up with a plan that’s going to make every parent happy and work for every schedule and work for every child and every situation,” Doubleday said.
According to Francesca Broderick, an attorney with the Disability Rights Center-NH, the organization has heard from parents around the state who have concerns about their children’s special-education services this semester.
It’s too soon to tell how well schools will adapt, she said, but the center is encouraging educators to consider accommodations that might fall outside of their reopening framework. For example, she said districts that are offering only a remote option should ideally create opportunities for special education students to receive some therapies in person if necessary, either in a school setting or through a provider visiting their home.
“One of the things we’re hoping to see is that schools will be open to talking with parents and will be open to creative solutions that maybe they haven’t thought of, that maybe aren’t part of an original plan that gets rolled out, but that may become necessary in order to respond to some parents’ concerns about the lack of appropriate services,” Broderick said.
Keene resident Michele L. Egan is a single mother of two children who receive special-education services. Her daughter, who is 13 and has been diagnosed with autism and ADHD, attends Parker Academy in Concord as an out-of-district placement.
In the spring, Egan’s daughter tried to participate in Parker Academy’s remote learning approach, which mirrored a typical school day over Google Meet. But about two weeks in, Egan said, her daughter told her she just couldn’t do it anymore — it was too difficult to concentrate.
Egan said she’s grateful the school has been flexible and willing to work with her daughter, and this fall, Parker Academy is shifting to an in-person model with tents for outdoor learning. She’s hopeful her daughter will adapt more easily to that format.
“She can’t do remote learning, so I have no choice but to be optimistic,” Egan said.
Meanwhile, her son, 12, who has a genetic condition called Cornelia de Lange syndrome, will attend Keene Middle School under a hybrid model. Egan said she’s still waiting on more details around exactly what that will look like, which is frustrating, but she noted she knows the schools are doing the best they can.
“Nobody even knows how to plan for it because there’s still a lot of uncertainty. So I feel like I am both understanding and a little miffed at the same time,” Egan said. “The special education kids especially, more of them I think need an in-group setting, but at the same time, many of them are in at-risk groups.
“So it’s a really hard balance to strike.”
Parents with concerns about a child’s access to special-education services can contact the Disability Rights Center at 603-228-0432.