SWANZEY CENTER — Monadnock Regional Middle/High School will transition to remote learning for the rest of the week due to an uptick in COVID cases and staffing challenges caused in part by quarantine and isolation requirements, the district announced Tuesday afternoon.
The school plans to return to in-person learning on Monday, Oct. 18, Superintendent Lisa Witte said in an email to The Sentinel. Extracurriculars are also canceled for that duration, she added.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 18 active cases at the middle/high school, according to the district’s online COVID case tracker. The school — which enrolls approximately 840 students in 7th through 12th grade, according to the district’s website — has reported a total of 27 cases since the academic year began Aug. 30. The district does not specify whether the cases are in staff or students.
As COVID cases have increased, Principal Lisa Spencer said staff members are exercising greater caution and getting tested when experiencing symptoms, which can put people out of work for a day or two while waiting for results. There’s been some lag in test-result turnaround, she added.
Schools across the Monadnock Region have struggled with staffing shortages, particularly finding enough substitutes during the pandemic. For Monadnock middle/high school to operate safely, the school needs to have sufficient staff members throughout the building, which Witte said is not currently possible. “We are not able to ensure adequate staffing levels at this time due to absences and/or vacancies,” she said.
All elementary schools within the Monadnock Regional School District — which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy — will continue with in-person classes, according to a Facebook post from the district. But visitors will not be allowed in any school through Nov. 1 due to an increase in infections districtwide.
According to the COVID tracker, there are currently 37 cases across the district: in addition to the middle/high school cases, nine at Cutler Elementary School in West Swanzey, four at Troy Elementary School, three at Mount Caesar Elementary School in Swanzey Center, two at Emerson Elementary School in Fitzwilliam and one in the district administrative building in Swanzey Center. The district has had a total of 70 cases since the start of school.
The next three days of remote learning at the middle/high school will count toward the 180 days for the year required by the state, Witte said.
The N.H. Department of Education allows districts to offer different options of in-person, hybrid and remote learning, though State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut has said he believes schools should only switch to remote learning if absolutely necessary.
“... We have learned throughout the past year that most students are happy and learn best during in-person instruction, which provides them with the greatest opportunities for success,” he said in a statement last Thursday, after Raymond High School decided to temporarily transition to remote learning due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
“Remote learning should be a last resort, and should only be in place for a short period of time if found to be absolutely necessary for safety reasons,” Edelblut said.
Decisions about which learning model to employ are made at the local level, according to Kimberly Houghton, a spokeswoman for the state education department.
Next month, the N.H. State Board of Education will review a proposal that would require that all students have access to in-person instruction all year. Distance education would not meet the requirement for in-person learning, Houghton said in an email.
Monadnock Regional Middle/High School students will receive Zoom links to tune into their classes for the rest of the week. Spencer said she expects teachers to handle the next few days with the expertise they’ve gained over the course of the pandemic.
“To be honest, my staff are rock stars,” Spencer said. “They are amazing — I created a schedule, sent it out to staff, and there isn’t a doubt in my mind they will implement it with fidelity.”