Face mask

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The Monadnock Regional School District will continue with its hybrid model but now will mandate students and staff wear masks throughout the day, the school board voted Tuesday night.

The district’s original policy recommended masks at all times, but allowed students and staff to remove their face coverings in classrooms when they were able to maintain social distancing. The board on Tuesday approved a stricter mask policy — with breaks allowed for eating, socially distanced outdoor activities and twice more throughout the day — by a weighted vote of 7.569 to 5.431.

“I’d like to see masks all day,” said board member Brian Bohannon of Swanzey, who introduced the measure. “I don’t want to take the discretion away from staff, but I do think it’s important that we are wearing masks as often as possible throughout the day.”

Some board members who voted against the new mask policy said they didn’t want to overregulate district staff.

“I’m not a fan of micromanaging the administration based on our opinion when they’ve done their diligence,” Board Chair Scott Peters of Troy said. “I think we look for their recommendations when we need to make a change, so this feels like we’re stepping around what has become a healthy tradition the past few years by potentially just setting a policy because we feel like it, as opposed to collaboratively.”

Prior to approving the more stringent mask policy, the board decided once again to continue with the district’s blend of in-person and remote learning by a vote of 12.030-0.970. Board member Nick Mosher of Roxbury had proposed switching to remote learning immediately and continuing through Jan. 19.

“I think it made sense weeks ago, prior to Thanksgiving, to make this move, but I think it’s even more important now, given the direction the state is going,” Mosher said during the meeting, which drew about 90 viewers on Zoom.

The board first voted to remain in the hybrid model a month ago, despite COVID-19 cases rising throughout the area and did not discuss the issue at its Dec. 1 meeting.

The district has had 11 confirmed cases of the viral respiratory illness this school year, Superintendent Lisa Witte said Tuesday, including at least one case at each of the district’s six schools. But, Witte added, Monadnock has not seen the virus spreading within its schools.

“We’ve had no evidence of transmission within the school setting,” she said. “We’ve had no clusters. And that’s really the big one that we’re looking at.”

Board members who voted to stick with the hybrid model Tuesday said they believe schools remain safe despite rising coronavirus cases throughout the region, and students benefit from at least some in-person learning.

“I think we should stay with hybrid. It’s working,” board member Kristen Noonan of Fitzwilliam said. “The children need it emotionally. The staff are doing well with it.”

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.

With the board’s decision Tuesday, Monadnock remains the lone local school district to continue with some in-person instruction through the upcoming winter break.

N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 — which covers Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland — went remote on Nov. 30. SAU 29 is scheduled to return to its hybrid model at the end of winter break on Jan. 4. Unit leaders will decide by Dec. 28 whether in-person classes will resume as scheduled. The Winchester School District also went remote last month and plans to re-evaluate returning to a hybrid model in early January.

The ConVal School District, Fall Mountain Regional School District and the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District all went fully remote last month and plan to return to in-person instruction on Jan. 19.

The Hinsdale School District announced Friday that it will continue with in-person instruction until winter break begins on Dec. 23 but will begin the second semester with two weeks of remote learning. Hinsdale schools are scheduled to reopen Jan. 19.

The Monadnock school board is scheduled to reconsider switching to fully remote learning at its Jan. 5 meeting.

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or jrooney@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.