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Monadnock, Keene districts settle beef over career center schedule

The Keene and Monadnock school districts have settled their dispute over a planned schedule change at Keene’s Cheshire Career Center with an agreement laying out how the center will accommodate students from other districts.

The agreement, signed Feb. 7, allows Keene to push back start times at the middle and high schools as planned, beginning with the 2020-21 school year. At the same time, it details several specific ways that the Keene district will ensure the change does not prevent Monadnock Regional High School students from accessing career center classes.

Part of the Keene School District and based at Keene High, the Cheshire Career Center serves juniors and seniors from the Keene, Monadnock and Fall Mountain Regional school districts.

Read Keene and Monadnock's agreement on scheduling

Keene’s upcoming shift to later start times is motivated by research showing that adolescents do better when they can sleep a bit longer. But the change will also affect the career center’s schedule.

The Monadnock Regional School District sued Keene last year in an attempt to block the schedule change. Monadnock said the shift would put its high school in Swanzey Center and the one in Keene on such different schedules that Monadnock students would have a hard time taking career center classes without disrupting other parts of their day.

The two school districts signed the agreement days before they were scheduled for arbitration facilitated by the N.H. Department of Education.

Fall Mountain district signed a similar agreement a few days prior, according to N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 Superintendent Robert Malay.

Monadnock’s settlement agreement was first reported by the Union Leader.

It says that Keene will schedule certain career center classes during specific periods to accommodate Monadnock students. Some scheduling will depend on whether students from Monadnock, Fall Mountain or both have requested a particular course, with Keene making sure to accommodate as many students as possible from each district.

Under the agreement, Monadnock students taking career center classes can also request to take other classes at Keene High, to reduce or eliminate the class time they would miss either at the career center or at their home high school due to the difference in schedule. Keene would provide those classes at no cost to the Monadnock Regional School District or the individual student.

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Grocery stores detail steps to protect shoppers, staff from COVID-19

Dealing face to face with the public, grocery store clerks are no strangers to stress. But as nonessential businesses close amid the coronavirus pandemic, these workers have been thrust onto the front lines of a public health crisis with both a heightened responsibility and an elevated risk of infection.

So what is being done to protect them? Area grocery stores — corporate and locally owned alike — have put new policies in place to help keep their employees and customers healthy.

At Price Chopper, which has stores in Keene’s Monadnock Marketplace and Brattleboro, spokeswoman Mona Golub said all stores have amped up their sanitation protocols. Everything from the lotto machines to the cashier keyboards is wiped down frequently, with extra steps for customer service employees, she said.

“On the front end, our customer-facing teammates have a sanitation regimen, where they are getting hand-washing breaks every half hour and hand-sanitizing fluid that they are using,” she said. “They are also wiping down the high-touch areas in between orders.”

Golub added that workers are not being given gloves or face masks, in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The federal agency’s website says face masks shouldn’t be used unless you are caring for someone who is sick or you are sick yourself, especially with the short supply. And while gloves can serve as a layer of protection, they can still transmit the virus, making them less effective than hand washing.

The stores are also professionally sanitized by a hired crew each night between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. — shopping hours cut recently from locations that are normally open ‘round the clock.

Golub added that the stores have posted signage advising people to remain six feet apart while shopping — the distance the CDC recommends when people are out in public to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Similar signs and sanitation practices are being employed at Hannaford, according to spokeswoman Ericka Dodge. Social-distancing practices have also been used between associates and vendors during product delivery, she noted.

In addition, Dodge said all Hannaford stores will have plexiglass barriers installed this week at the cash registers to help block the transmission of viruses at the front end of the store. The Maine-based supermarket chain has area locations in Keene, Rindge and Brattleboro.

“Our associates are following strict hygiene techniques that are most effective at combating viruses,” she said in an email Tuesday afternoon, “and we are asking associates who are feeling unwell to stay home.”

The websites for Market Basket — which has stores in Swanzey and Rindge — and Aldi‘s — which has locations in Keene and Brattleboro — describe heightened cleaning as well, but representatives from the companies did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Jerry Gomarlo, owner of Gomarlo’s Shop ‘n’ Save Supermarket in Swanzey, said the six-foot protocol is “impossible.”

“When you are doing a transaction at the register, you’re within a couple feet of someone,” he said.

Otherwise, the store has enacted similar sanitation measures as the corporate stores. But, Gomarlo said, he is offering gloves to employees, though they aren’t required to wear them.

“It’s up to them if they want to, but a majority of them do,” he said. “But it’s hard to wear rubber gloves and use a cash register and handle the money.”

He’s also been feeding his workers breakfast and lunch and hired additional staff — about 10 to 12 people who worked next door at Jeanne’s Family Diner before its dining room closed — to ensure regular employees still get days off.

Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene is also providing gloves to staff, according to spokeswoman Jen Risley.

And the store is increasing its cleaning, hiring temporary employees to help reduce the workload and using signs to remind customers of social distancing while shopping.

“We certainly hope the community will help our staff feel safer by not shopping when they are ill, to respect the recommended six-foot distance and to be kind when we are not able to provide the products they are looking for,” Risley said in an email.

Vermont governor issues stay-at-home order

MONTPELIER, Vt. — On the same day that Vermont health officials announced the deaths of two more COVID-19 patients, Gov. Phil Scott issued a stay-at-home order in an effort to contain the spread of the virus that causes the disease.

Under the directive, officially called “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” all in-person operations for most businesses and nonprofit organizations in the state will be suspended effective Wednesday at 5 p.m., according to a news release from Scott’s office. Exceptions are being made for entities deemed essential, including health-care facilities, grocery and hardware stores, pharmacies, fuel companies and the media.

Business that can be done online or over the phone, as well as curbside pickup and delivery, will be allowed to continue, the release says. The release notes that the order’s three-week duration can be prolonged or truncated as needed.

“I fully recognize the emotional, financial and economic impact of these decisions, but based on the best science we have available, these measures are necessary,” Scott said in the release. “I need all Vermonters to understand that the more quickly and closely we follow these stay-at-home measures, the faster and safer we can get through this and get our daily lives, and our economy, moving again.”

Like N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu, Scott had already declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, had closed schools and had prohibited sit-down dining and drinking in restaurants and bars.

But in Tuesday’s directive, Scott went a step further than his Granite State counterpart.

On Monday, Sununu announced an executive order banning gatherings of 10 or more people, yet despite calls from the mayors of Nashua and Manchester and a Change.org petition to take even more stringent action, he has thus far stopped short of doing so.

But at a news conference Tuesday, he made clear he’s not ruling it out.

“We very well may have to take steps in the future to escalate things as we go,” Sununu said. “We’re not there today.”

Death toll rises

Also Tuesday, the Vermont Department of Health announced that the number of deaths reported in the state among COVID-19 patients had hit seven. The two newly reported deaths involve a resident of Burlington Health & Rehab — the fifth COVID-19 patient from that facility to die — as well as one of the state’s first patients to test positive for the novel coronavirus disease, according to Ben Truman, a spokesman for the Vermont health department.

About 10 “asymptomatic and short-term patients” of Burlington Health & Rehab were being moved to rooms at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Burlington, as part of a collaboration between the state, University of Vermont Medical Center and Burlington Health & Rehab, according to the state health agency.

Lori Mayer, a Burlington Health & Rehab spokeswoman, told VT Digger.org last week that the center had been “hyper-vigilant” in its screenings and in working with Vermont health officials on protocols.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a total of 95 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont.

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Internet providers offer free service to students

With schools closed and remote learning becoming the new normal amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Internet providers have stepped up to make sure area students have reliable access.

On Monday night, Keene Mayor George S. Hansel announced on Twitter that Spectrum and Consolidated Communications have agreed to offer two months of free Internet service to students within their market areas who don’t already have it. Spectrum has also made the promotion available to teachers.

“This is just another example of us working together as community partner organizations,” Hansel said. “We really do need everybody to row in same direction here; we’re all working toward same thing, which is to keep community safe.”

Students who don’t currently have Internet access and want to get connected via Consolidated can call 1-855-399-3084 and mention the offer code “two months free” or visit www.consolidated.com/offer/student for more information.

The offer includes free installation, two months of waived equipment fees, a no-cost wireless router and no data cap. It does not require customers to sign long-term contracts.

According to Shannon Sullivan, corporate communications manager for Consolidated, the company opened up the offer because it knows how important it is to stay connected during difficult situations like the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We know that everyone is reliant on the critical services that we provide at a time like this,” Sullivan said. “We want to be sure that those who are in need of Internet access have options that can work for them.”

Announced last week by parent company Charter Communications, Spectrum’s offer extends to households with students in grades K through 12 and college. Spectrum has also said it will waive installation or pre-payment fees.

Those interested in the offer can call 855-243-8892.

“Internet broadband services typically are costing people $30 to $50, or above, for basic services,” said state Sen. Jay Kahn, a Keene Democrat who has been working on Internet issues for several years. “To offer it for free may enable some people who have had to make tough choices to have access during this time.”

Kahn also said that while helping people afford Internet access is important, not all communities have the infrastructure that enables connection. In many localities surrounding Keene, and in some parts of the city itself, Kahn said, dial-up Internet is the only connection available. This service isn’t quick enough to work with modern programs and becomes even slower when multiple people use it at once.

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, state and federal officials have been looking at ways to expand broadband access to communities that don’t have the best connections. Consolidated has been working with a number of those communities, including Chesterfield and Dublin, to build out the needed infrastructure.

Hansel said he’s also asked the providers to look into connecting parts of the city with homes that aren’t already set up to connect to broadband but noted that’s a longer-term objective.