Winchester School Board

The Winchester School Board, which met via Zoom Thursday evening, plans to make a decision at its next meeting on Feb. 18 about when the district will switch back from fully remote learning to a hybrid model. In the meantime, the district will send a survey to families asking whether they intend to send their children back to at least some in-person classes, the results of which will help administrators develop a plan for resuming in-school instruction.

WINCHESTER — The school board is eyeing its Feb. 18 meeting to decide when the district will switch from fully remote learning to some in-person instruction.

In the meantime, school administrators will send out a survey to families asking whether they want their children to return to a hybrid model or remain fully remote. Winchester School Principal Valerie Carey said at the board’s meeting Thursday evening that she should be able to send the survey by Saturday. School officials will use the results of the survey to develop grade-specific hybrid models based on student demand and staff capacity.

“We will offer the maximum in-person time based on the number of students requesting hybrid, the available staff and the available space for those grade levels,” Carey said during the meeting, which was held via Zoom.

For example, Carey said, some grades may be able to hold in-person classes four days a week, while other grades may stick with the two days a week.

“I think it’s important for us to not restrict those who could come more from coming more just because school-wide, we couldn’t get there,” she said.

Winchester School, which enrolls about 440 students in preschool through 8th grade, transitioned from a hybrid model to fully remote instruction on Nov. 16, after Cheshire County eclipsed a seven-day rolling average of 10 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, a tipping point laid out in the school’s reopening plan. The school board voted to stick with remote instruction at its Jan. 7 meeting and to re-evaluate that decision at least at the first meeting of each month.

School Board Chair Lindseigh Picard said Thursday that the board should be prepared to set a reopening date at its next meeting, so long as all families have a chance to fill out the survey before then, and new COVID-19 cases in Cheshire County continue to decrease.

“As we’re watching the numbers over the next two weeks, and as long as they continue to decline with no major spikes, it sounds like, on the 18th, we should be tracking on an appropriate timeline for a healthy and safe return to school within an updated hybrid model sometime in the next month,” Picard said.

Before switching to remote learning in mid-November, Winchester School had been operating under a hybrid model in which students were split into groups that attended classes on campus and remotely on alternating days. High-schoolers from Winchester attend Keene High School, which operated fully remotely from Nov. 30 until Monday, when the school returned to a hybrid model.

When Winchester School does resume hybrid learning, Carey cautioned that families should be prepared to switch back to fully remote classes quickly if any staff members need to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.

“We simply do not have flexibility in staffing. So if I have a staff member who is exposed [to COVID-19] and needs to quarantine, I do not have another staff member to put in that place,” she said. “... But I think it’s very important for us to figure out how we best work with what we have to create models that we can accommodate to get kids back in school.”

In order to limit how often that might happen, Carey said it will continue to be important for all students and staff to adhere to health and safety measures such as distancing, mask-wearing and screening for coronavirus symptoms before coming to school each day.

“It’s going to take all of us being really cognizant of those protocols in order for us to maintain being in-person for those hybrid models as long as possible,” Carey said.

While Winchester School will remain remote for now, nearly all local school districts have returned to some in-person instruction, after the vast majority of them switched to remote learning through the holiday season. Schools in N.H. School Administrative Unit 29, which covers Keene and six nearby towns, and the Fall Mountain Regional School District returned to some in-person classes on Monday.

The ConVal School District, Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District and Hinsdale School District all returned to hybrid or in-person models on Jan. 19. Hinsdale schools, however, have been operating remotely since last Tuesday after someone in the school community tested positive for COVID-19, according to a post on the district’s website. Schools there are expected to reopen Monday.

The Monadnock Regional School District — which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy — has been operating under a hybrid model for the entire academic year.

The Winchester School Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m.

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