Nelson School Board

The Nelson School Board met via Zoom Tuesday, joined by N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 Superintendent Robert Malay, top left, and Nelson School Principal Kelsey Kilburn, top right, and unanimously approved a plan to begin the school year with a mix of in-person and remote learning.

NELSON — Students at Nelson Elementary School will begin the year with a mix of in-person and remote learning on Sept. 10.

The Nelson School Board on Tuesday evening unanimously approved the N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 Comprehensive Reopening Plan, which calls for students to be split into two groups, about half of whom will attend in-person classes on Mondays and Thursdays while the other half will be in school on Tuesdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, all students will learn remotely as the school, which enrolls about 75 students from Nelson and Sullivan in kindergarten through 5th grade, undergoes a deep cleaning.

“I think it would be prudent for us to start in the hybrid model, knowing that it’s not perfect, but no model is perfect,” board member Eric Marean said during the meeting, which was held online via Zoom. “But I think smaller class sizes, and the time to figure out our routines and determine what works well and what we might need to tweak, makes absolute sense before we make any changes on that.”

Nelson Elementary families can also choose fully remote classes to begin the year if they are not comfortable sending their children back to in-person classes.

The Nelson School Board on Tuesday also approved delaying the first day of school to Sept. 10 to bring Nelson’s calendar in line with Keene public schools. Students from Nelson and Sullivan attend Keene Middle School, then Keene High School, after finishing at Nelson Elementary.

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.

During a seven-hour meeting of all seven SAU 29 school boards — Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland — last Thursday night, the Nelson board did not vote on a reopening plan, instead taking some extra time to get feedback from Nelson staff members and families. About a half-dozen staff members spoke during Tuesday’s meeting, each of them in favor of the hybrid model.

“Ultimately, I think we’re all in the same place of we want our kids back, but we also want it to be safe,” Cindy Benner, a Nelson Elementary kindergarten teacher, said. “So, to me, the hybrid seems like really scattered and crazy, and I can imagine it being really crazy for families, but I think for me it’s a logical step if we’re going to try towards coming back.”

She added that the smaller class sizes will help teachers get students to follow the new health and safety measures designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the school. The SAU 29 reopening plan calls for all students and staff to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and stay at home if they are sick, among other measures.

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 Nelson’s school board has approved a reopening plan, the school will send letters to families asking whether their children will return to school under the hybrid model or opt to begin the year fully remotely. Thus far, Malay said, about 80 percent of families in the Keene and Harrisville districts, which also approved the hybrid plan, are choosing to send their children back to school, with the other 20 percent deciding to start with remote instruction.

Nelson’s adoption of a reopening plan means that only one SAU 29 district, Chesterfield, has yet to approve a plan. The Chesterfield School Board is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. via Zoom. More information is available on that district’s website at www.che.sau29.org.

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