While several local school districts recently chose to switch to remote learning through the holidays amid a spike in area COVID-19 cases, the ConVal district has been preparing for this transition to virtual classes since the summer.
Tuesday marked the final day of in-person classes until Jan. 19 in ConVal schools, according to the calendar written into the district’s reopening plan, which ConVal officials began drafting in June and the school board approved unanimously in early August.
“Our plan has included a transition to remote learning over the holiday season because we anticipated that there would be a second wave of COVID-19,” Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said in a news release from the district last week. “We also knew that holiday travel could increase our risks. We wanted to first and foremost mitigate the chances of COVID-19 spreading during in-person learning as well as provide this opportunity for people to quarantine and travel safely.”
In addition to limiting the COVID-19 risks associated with traveling, district leaders said ConVal’s scheduled remote-learning period has provided time to prepare for the switch, giving families the ability to plan for where their children will be during the day, and teachers additional resources to adapt to online instruction.
ConVal — which covers Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple — is planning a similar remote-learning period from March 29 to April 16, following the district’s two-week spring break next semester.
The state requires anyone who travels outside of New England to quarantine for 14 days upon their return, or quarantine for seven days before testing negative for COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising against traveling for Thanksgiving this year, but millions of Americans still appear to be flying ahead of the holiday.
ConVal considered the potential for this sort of trend when developing its reopening plan, Assistant Superintendent Ann Forrest said Tuesday.
“We figured there’d be more traveling and families visiting and kids coming back from college, so back in the summer when we made the plan, we figured that [this] would be a time that would potentially be less safe,” Forrest said in a phone interview. “So we built it into the plan with the idea that we’d give parents and families that much time to kind of figure out and plan for what they would do during this time.”
The resurgence of the virus that ConVal was anticipating, and that public health officials predicted, is occurring both locally and nationally. Cheshire County, for instance, set two records last week for the number of new cases in one day, and New Hampshire has been averaging more than 400 new cases a day over the past week, higher than any previous point in the pandemic.
In preparation for ConVal’s remote-learning period, the district has been hosting professional development sessions throughout the summer and fall to help teachers and other staff members get ready to teach remotely through the holidays, Forrest said.
“So there’s been a lot of differentiated [professional development] where teachers can choose from a menu of options to get what they need,” she said.
For example, she said some teachers needed more training on how to lead classes via Zoom videoconference, while others have wanted more direction on what their daily schedules will look like while they are teaching virtually full-time.
ConVal school buildings will remain open during the upcoming remote-learning period, and teachers will have the option to teach from their classrooms or from home, according to Forrest. About 10 percent of the district’s 2,025 students have also been selected to still receive in-person instruction through the holidays, she added.
“And those are specifically students that we felt, if they weren’t in-person, that there would be either no growth, or they would potentially regress during this time,” she said. The students who still will report to school include students who need special education services and those who do not have adequate Internet access at home, among others, Forrest added.
ConVal elementary and middle school students had been attending in-person classes five days a week this school year. Students at ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough are divided into two cohorts based on hometown, and had been alternating weeks of in-person and remote classes. All families also can choose to have their children learn fully remotely.
As ConVal has prepared throughout the fall for the transition to remote learning over the holidays, several other area districts have made the decision to go remote in recent weeks.
N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 — which covers Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland — announced Nov. 13 that its schools would switch to remote learning from Nov. 30 through at least Jan. 4 due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Cheshire County. The Winchester School Board made a similar decision on Nov. 12, and will revisit whether to return to some in-person instruction at its Jan. 7 meeting.
The Fall Mountain Regional School District — which covers Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Langdon and Walpole — also will be remote from Monday through Jan. 19, following several cases within the schools, and amid rising transmission rates in the region.
Hinsdale schools are scheduled to return to in-person instruction on Monday, following nearly three weeks of remote learning after a high-school student in the district tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 9. All schools in the Jaffrey-Rindge district have been remote since Nov. 16, following several COVID-19 cases within the schools. The school board is scheduled to consider returning to some in-person classes at its Dec. 7 meeting.
Meanwhile, the Monadnock Regional School District — which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy — is remaining with a hybrid model for now, the school board decided last week.
The ConVal district has reported only one COVID-19 case this school year. Someone at South Meadow School in Peterborough tested positive for the viral respiratory illness last week, Rizzo Saunders wrote in a message on the district’s website.
In an effort to keep viral transmission low when students return after the Christmas break, the district has launched a public health campaign dubbed the #ConValCommunityPledge. Students, families, staff and community members who take the pledge are promising to follow public health guidance to reduce the spread of COVID-19, according to a news release from the district.
These preventative measures include wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing around people who don’t live in the same home, limiting gatherings and regularly, thoroughly washing hands.
“We hope that the pledge encourages people to do their part to take the necessary precautions to stay healthy over the coming weeks so that we can return to school after the holidays,” Rizzo Saunders said in the news release.