For much of the coronavirus pandemic, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has performed well. Early on, he heeded the advice of experts and shut down those sectors of the state most likely to become hubs of transmission for the virus.
But regarding education, Sununu has struggled to send a clear message on the dangers posed by the virus. After ordering schools closed last spring, the governor went deep into the summer offering districts no guidance regarding reopening for the fall, before finally punting, saying it was up to each district to figure out a plan, while forwarding advice from the CDC.
He further drew the ire of the state’s teachers when he refused to include them in early phases of the state’s vaccine rollout — though the man whose family owns Waterville Valley Ski Resort did include some ski industry employees as essential workers.
More recently, he’s made two very curious moves that further the impression.
First, he refused to include college students attending school in New Hampshire but who hail from out of state in the latest vaccine phase. We find this a counterproductive stance. Sununu’s staff first said it was because there isn’t enough vaccine to include them — but the amount of vaccine distributed by federal authorities is based on census numbers, which include out-of-state college students who live here for most of the year. So there should be plenty.
Sununu has also argued allowing the students to get their first shot here would complicate things because they might then return to their native states before getting the second dose. That could occur, though not if the state made a conscious effort to inoculate students with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Also, most students typically stay in the area well into May, and are likely to stay even later this year, meaning they certainly could receive both doses — again, if the state wanted it to happen.
We’d note college campuses remain some of the hotbeds of active virus cases in the state. That means not only is Sununu’s stance unnecessarily denying a needed vaccine to those students, it’s therefore potentially exposing others on campuses and in the communities to an increased danger as well.
Overall, the intentional omission smacks of the same dynamic we’ve seen before from Sununu and other conservatives in New Hampshire, of treating students, especially those who pick up their lives and move here for four years of college, as outsiders. “We don’t want you” is the message: We don’t want you to have a say in how things are run here, so we’ll make it harder for you to vote. But we’ll happily accept your money in our stores, bars, restaurants and ski areas. And we won’t turn down the added resources we get because you’re included in our census numbers.
We recall candidate Chris Sununu visiting Keene to make his case for governor, telling us that attracting and keeping young adults here long-term was vital to the future of the state. He made a much better case then than he’s made since taking office.
The second puzzling decision was the governor’s abrupt order that all New Hampshire public schools return to full-time in-person operation five days a week by April 19. That announcement, last Thursday, gave those schools that haven’t already returned to full-time in-person learning just over two weeks to make it happen.
After making a big deal about deferring to the “local control” of the districts last year, when some actual guidance would have been helpful, to now tell those same districts they have no say in whether to use remote instruction seems a heavy-handed and unnecessary stance.
This is especially so given that most schools have already returned to at least four-day in-person operation. Some of those that haven’t gone fully in-person have been leaving themselves leeway to fully disinfect and clean facilities.
No one would argue the point that most students benefit from in-person education in multiple ways. But it’s not as if districts weren’t already moving in that direction. It was also strange to hear that the districts had no advance notice prior to the announced edict. SAU 29’s superintendent said he’d have liked to have another week, which would have brought the district into spring vacation week — buying them another week. Monadnock’s said she was startled by the order. That district is now seeking to remain hybrid until May 3 to get staff vaccinated and figure out the social-distancing logistics.
As was the case with Sununu’s February mandate that schools return to in-person instruction at least two days per week, this edict seems more a political statement than anything.