Monadnock Regional School District voters who attend the Jan. 30 deliberative session will get a taste of what students and teachers are experiencing this year after the school board decided that the event will consist of a mix of in-person and virtual elements.
As students returned from winter break Monday, the district resumed its hybrid model, in which kids 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.) At a meeting Tuesday night, the board approved a plan to host an in-person deliberative session in four different schools, all connected by a Zoom video meeting.
“It will be a virtual event, sort of,” Superintendent Lisa Witte said. “It will still be an in-person event, as well — sort of a hybrid. We’re getting good at hybrid.”
Monadnock Regional Middle/High School in Swanzey Center will be the meeting’s “home base,” Witte said. The Zoom meeting will be broadcast from the school auditorium, where voters from Swanzey and Richmond will gather.
Voters in other towns will be able to participate in the Zoom meeting from designated locations: Fitzwilliam voters at Emerson Elementary School, Troy voters at Troy Elementary and Gilsum and Roxbury voters at Gilsum STEAM Academy. The Zoom meeting will be available for anyone to watch online, Witte added, but in order to participate and vote at the deliberative session, voters must report to their designated meeting site.
Voters who want to participate in the deliberative session are required attend their designated in-person meeting sites because they must check in with their respective Supervisor of the Checklist and receive a set of colored cards that they will use to vote, Witte said.
In an official-ballot school district like Monadnock, the annual deliberative session gives voters an opportunity to discuss and amend warrant articles before later voting them up or down at the polls.
Witte said she’s confident this format will work. “There’s a lot of pieces in place already. There’s a lot that we’re working through, but I’m confident.”
Monadnock’s decision Tuesday comes as communities and school districts across the state grapple with an approaching town-meeting season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Monadnock board also approved two more plans Tuesday dealing with the schools’ role in the democratic process.
The board narrowly voted to allow the town of Swanzey to use the high school as its polling place for the March 9 elections, a move the town’s Board of Selectmen requested. Last September, the board denied the selectmen’s request to hold voting at the school for the November general election but on Tuesday approved the plan for March by a weighted vote of 6.606 to 6.394.
Eric Stanley of Swanzey was the only town representative on the school board to vote against the plan, which calls for election officials to leave the school after polls close on election day and count votes elsewhere to give school staff time to clean and disinfect before students and teachers return the next day.
Now that the school board has approved the Swanzey selectmen’s request, the board will make the final decision on where to hold voting for the March elections.
The school board also approved the town of Troy’s request to host its town meeting on March 10 in the Troy Elementary School gym by a weighted vote of 7.721 to 4.068. Similar to the decision to allow Swanzey to use Monadnock Regional Middle/High School as a polling place, the board approved Troy’s request with certain stipulations, including that the town provide seating for the meeting and vacate the building by 10 p.m. to allow time for school staff to disinfect the space.
Though the Monadnock board previously considered switching to fully remote instruction due to rising COVID-19 cases in the region, the issue did not come to a vote at Tuesday’s meeting. Board member Karen Wheeler of Gilsum requested that the board discuss potentially transitioning to remote learning at its next meeting on Jan. 19.
Monadnock was the only area school district to return from winter break Monday under a hybrid model. Schools in SAU 29 — which covers Keene and six nearby towns — were originally scheduled to resume its hybrid model Monday, but delayed that move until Jan. 19 due to the heightened potential for coronavirus transmission if families and school staff traveled or gathered with people outside their homes for the holidays.
The ConVal School District, Fall Mountain Regional School District, Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District and Hinsdale School District also are scheduled to resume some in-person instruction on Jan. 19.
The Winchester School Board plans to consider whether to switch back to a hybrid model at its meeting on Thursday. Winchester School has been operating remotely since Nov. 16 due to the spike in coronavirus cases locally.