MARLBOROUGH — Students at Marlborough School will be back in classrooms five days a week this fall but won’t begin the school year until Sept. 10, bringing the district’s calendar in line with Keene public schools.
The school board unanimously approved both decisions at a meeting Monday evening, making Marlborough the first district in N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 — which also covers Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland — to opt for a full return to in-person classes in the new academic year. Marlborough families can also choose fully remote classes to begin the year if they are not comfortable sending their children back to school.
Public schools statewide transitioned to remote learning in mid-March due to concern over the COVID-19 pandemic and remained that way through the end of the school year. After Gov. Chris Sununu released the state’s reopening guidance on July 14, largely leaving final decisions up to individual school districts, public schools throughout the Monadnock Region have been working toward finalizing their reopening plans.
The Marlborough School Board voted down the SAU 29 Comprehensive Reopening Plan near the end of a seven-hour meeting of all seven SAU 29 school boards last Thursday night. That plan calls for a mix of in-person and remote learning in the new school year, with about half of the students attending in-person classes on Mondays and Thursdays and the other half in school on Tuesdays and Fridays, leaving Wednesday for schools to undergo a deep cleaning while students learn remotely.
Marlborough School is able to return to full on-site instruction safely because it has enough space for students and staff to maintain physical distancing, and the community has a low enough rate of COVID-19 cases, school board Chairman Jeffrey Miller said.
“We’re so fortunate to have the case incidence rate that we do, and we look forward to moving on and providing the best possible education that we can to our children in an environment that is safe for our faculty and staff,” Miller said during the meeting Monday, which was held via Zoom.
Marlborough School, which enrolls students from preschool through 8th grade, has 176 students and 40 full and part-time staff members, according to the district’s website. The town of Marlborough currently has fewer than five active cases of COVID-19, and has had fewer than five total cases since the onset of the pandemic, according to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.
In addition to classroom space, Marlborough School Principal Robin Whitney said the school plans to use outdoor areas for classes, weather permitting, which will help promote physical distancing.
“We have a plan to ask students to bring a towel to school that we keep there all week, rolled up under their chairs, so they have something to sit on when we go outside,” Whitney said during the meeting. “We’ll be using the pavilion, and we’ll be using the wooded area around [the school], where we have some classroom space set up.”
Whitney also said that she and SAU 29 Assistant Superintendent Brian Campbell met with a group of Marlborough School staff members earlier on Monday to address any of their worries about returning to in-person instruction.
“They were concerned about space,” Whitney said. “We went through the rooms. I even took people upstairs to show them two rooms that we have already set up with the maximum amount of chairs that any classroom would need. ... They were very happy to see those.”
The school also has sufficient supplies of masks, plastic face shields and cleaning materials, Whitney added.
“We’re in really good shape,” she said.
Miller, who said he also attended the meeting with the school staff earlier in the day, said he got the sense teachers want to return to school, and do so safely.
The Marlborough School Board also unanimously approved the SAU 29 Comprehensive Reopening on Monday, with the exception of opting for full in-person instruction instead of following SAU 29’s recommended hybrid of in-school and remote learning. The 29-page document, which will guide Marlborough’s reopening process, calls for a variety of health measures designed to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 in schools, including requiring all staff and students to wear masks and stay home if they are sick.
The SAU 29 plan also offers a fully remote learning option for families who do not feel comfortable sending their children back to any in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. SAU 29 staff members will teach these remote classes, Superintendent Robert Malay announced during the SAU-wide meeting last Thursday.
Now that the Marlborough School Board has approved a reopening plan, the school will send a letter to families as soon as Tuesday, asking whether they will send students back to school or keep them at home, Malay said. This will help SAU 29 determine how many staff members they need to teach remote classes.
“We don’t want to assign or be able to identify 15 remote teachers if we only need seven,” Malay said during the meeting Monday. “So we really need to start by getting that information from our families on what they intend to do when the school year begins, whether they’re going to be on-site, or whether they would prefer to be remote.”
Marlborough’s new first day of school brings it in line with the Keene School District. Hopefully, Miller said, this will allow all of the SAU 29 students who opt for remote learning to begin on the same day as their peers who are returning to in-person classes.
Marlborough was one of three SAU 29 districts, along with Nelson and Chesterfield, that did not approve a reopening plan at the meeting of all seven boards last Thursday. The Nelson School Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. to decide on reopening. The Chesterfield School Board is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. to vote on reopening. Both of those meetings will be held via Zoom, and more information is available at www.sau29.org.