Keene High School

Keene High School

With COVID-19 cases rising throughout the state, schools in N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 will transition to fully remote classes on Nov. 30, with the goal of returning to some in-person instruction after Christmas break, Superintendent Robert Malay said Friday evening.

Malay made the announcement during an emergency meeting of all seven school boards of SAU 29, which covers Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland.

“I want to make this decision now so that people have time to make plans,” Malay said during the meeting, which was held via Zoom. “Giving them two full weeks gives them more time than if we had an outbreak and they had to shift the very next day.”

Individual schools could switch to remote classes sooner, if they have outbreaks of COVID-19 cases, but those decisions would be made on a school-by-school basis, Malay added. Two SAU 29 schools reported cases of the viral respiratory disease earlier this week — one at Keene Middle School, the other at Chesterfield School — marking the first cases within the SAU.

The decision to go to remote classes, made in accordance with the SAU 29 Comprehensive Reopening Plan, was prompted by the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Cheshire County, Malay said.

“Our students and staff have done an incredible job keeping transmission from happening in any of our buildings thus far,” Malay wrote in an email to SAU 29 families and staff Friday evening. “However, with the rapidly increasing number of positive cases of COVID-19, both in Cheshire County and across the State of New Hampshire, we realize that this may not be sustainable.”

Announcing the decision now also gives schools enough time to distribute the equipment and supplies students will need for remote learning before they leave for Thanksgiving break, Malay added.

Most SAU 29 schools have been operating under a hybrid model, in which students attend in-person classes two days a week and learn remotely for three days. Students at Marlborough and Westmoreland schools have been going to class in-person five days a week, and Chesterfield School was in the process of shifting to full on-site instruction.

SAU 29 families also have the option for their children to learn fully remotely. Those students will not see any changes when SAU 29 schools transition to remote classes after Thanksgiving, Malay said Friday.

Both during the meeting and in Malay’s message to families and staff, he acknowledged that the change to fully remote classes will be challenging for everyone.

“We absolutely recognize that this will be extremely difficult for many of our families, our staff and for our community as a whole,” Malay wrote. “We share in the concerns that this shift will cause, but as we have stated numerous times, the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff are a top priority.”

He added that SAU 29 officials and school board members will continue to monitor COVID-19 statistics throughout the holiday season, and will provide more information on returning students to in-person or hybrid instruction as the end of Christmas break approaches. Classes are scheduled to resume Jan. 4.

The SAU 29 decision comes at the end of a week in which three other local school districts announced that they are transitioning to remote learning, as well.

Hinsdale schools will be remote until after Thanksgiving, following news on Monday that a high-school student in the district tested positive for COVID-19. The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District will be remote for at least three weeks after several members of Jaffrey Rindge Middle School/Conant High School community contracted the virus, the school board decided Wednesday evening. And the Winchester School Board voted Thursday night to switch to fully remote instruction due to the rising number of cases in Cheshire County.

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