A recent survey of parents, students and staff in the Monadnock Regional School District found that most parents want kids to return to in-person classes five days a week as soon as possible, while employees and students generally want to wait until the beginning of next school year.
Superintendent Lisa Witte presented results of the survey at Tuesday night’s school board meeting and said district leaders are still working to determine what it will take to resume fully in-person classes. She intends to present those plans at the next board meeting March 16.
In the meantime, she noted that roughly 30 to 40 percent of the 538 parents who responded to the survey, which closed Feb. 25, indicated they would be OK holding off on a full return to in-person classes until the beginning of next school year, depending on the level of COVID-19 transmission.
“Parents overwhelmingly prefer a full return sooner rather than later, regardless of the level of community [COVID-19] transmission,” Witte said during the meeting, which drew about 65 viewers on Zoom. “But if you look at what the second choice of parents was, it was to finish the year hybrid. So I think it’s important to not just look at what the majority was but also sort of what the second place, the next most popular selection, was.”
According to the survey, roughly 46 percent of parents want to return to full in-person learning by mid-March if COVID-19 transmission in Cheshire County remains substantial, defined by a 14-day average of more than 100 new coronavirus infections per 100,000 people. That number jumps to nearly 61 percent if community transmission returns to a 14-day average of fewer than 50 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.
That’s not the case for district staff and students though, Witte said.
“The overwhelming majority of employees would prefer a return to full in-person learning in the fall, regardless of where we are with the level of transmission,” she said. “Students were pretty evenly split on the timing of the return to full in-person learning, with about half indicating they would prefer returning in the fall.”
Students in the Monadnock district — which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy — attend school in person two days per week and do remote learning the rest of the week. Families also have the option for their children to learn fully remotely. According to data presented at Tuesday’s meeting, about 83.6 percent of the district’s roughly 1,600 students attend school under the hybrid model, while the other 16.4 percent are fully remote.
Monadnock has remained in a hybrid model for the entire school year thus far, while all other area districts switched to remote learning over the holiday season, when coronavirus cases spiked throughout the region. Every other local district has returned to some level of in-person instruction, except Winchester, where students are scheduled to resume in-person classes four days a week this coming Monday.
Comments from community members who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting were also split on when to return to full in-person classes.
“I’m in favor of staying with the hybrid model because I’m not sure that every school could maintain the social-distancing guidelines that are recommended by the CDC, and I think that that’s very important,” Kristan Tilton of Troy said.
Dan Coffman, a Swanzey resident, said he applauds the district’s hybrid model but added that he feels strongly that students need to get back into the classroom five days a week.
“I think it’s really important as we go through these conversations to recognize that kids are being undereducated,” said Coffman, who serves on the school district’s budget committee. “No matter how hard we try, the best place for them to be is fully in classrooms.”
Witte noted that social distancing in classrooms will be a key consideration for when and how to resume fully in-person classes. The COVID-19 vaccination rates for district staff members, which could increase as the state continues to implement its vaccination plan, will be another important factor, she said.
“Certainly with the pace that we’re at, and with educators being in [New Hampshire’s phase] 2A, it’s possible that all employees could be vaccinated with both doses by the end of the school year, but it doesn’t appear likely at this point,” Witte said. “But again, things change daily.”
Witte added that developments like the Food and Drug Administration’s approval over the weekend of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose coronavirus vaccine “could be a game-changer.”
Witte said Tuesday that she plans to present “pretty robust information about what full return could look like” at the school board’s next meeting, scheduled for March 16 at 7 p.m.