School reopening

Metro Creative Connection

Masks will be mandatory in all N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 buildings next academic year, one of several dozen unit-wide requirements released Thursday and designed to protect students and staff as they return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mask mandate is based on guidance from the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, according to the nine-page SAU 29 universal procedures document. The unit’s member districts — Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland — will provide reusable cloth masks to all students and staff members upon request, and while supplies last, according to the document posted on the SAU 29 website.

After the state did not require masks as part of its school reopening guidance, which Gov. Chris Sununu shared last week, SAU 29 Superintendent Robert Malay said teachers and administrators felt strongly that local schools should make them mandatory.

“Collectively, I think it’s overwhelming that everyone feels that masks should be a priority when folks are in the building, whether they’re students, staff or visitors,” Malay said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.

All SAU 29 schools also will establish breaks for students and staff to take off their masks during the school day, “with consideration to appropriate distancing, the need to eat and drink water, and age appropriateness,” according to the document. Additionally, schools will provide disposable face coverings to any students, staff or visitors who arrive at school buildings without them.

The SAU 29 universal procedures also require schools to calculate their maximum capacity based on government guidance that students and staff keep three to six feet of distance in schools. The universal procedures provide a foundation for individual schools to build their specific reopening plans, which also will be guided by the SAU 29 reopening framework issued earlier this week.

Schools expect to release those plans the week of Aug. 3. The reopening framework calls for schools to plan for three possibilities for the coming academic year: in-person instruction, remote learning or a hybrid of the two. As schools calculate their maximum capacity, while factoring in safe physical distancing, they will determine on an individual basis whether they can return to full in-school instruction, Malay said.

And now that schools have the necessary guidance to develop their specific reopening plans, Malay thanked the SAU 29 community for its patience.

“I know everybody has wanted this information for a long time, and we were waiting for information to come from the state, and now that we’ve got that, we’ve been going full speed ahead,” he said. “Our days are consumed with making sure that we’re getting this closer and closer to the finish line.”

Read the full SAU 29 universal procedures document at www.sau29.org.

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