There are roughly a dozen private schools in the Monadnock Region that have been following the same general guidelines for COVID-19 safety as public schools in the state. Yet while the number of active cases per 100,000 in New Hampshire has hovered between 4 and 500 this month, there have been close to none at a number of private schools.

The state’s recommendation to control the COVID-19 virus at area schools that have been recommended and used throughout the pandemic include vaccination of staff; regular testing; social distancing and face mask use. The state doesn’t distinguish between public and private schools, although institutions like boarding schools have a list of specific guidelines for sleeping and bathroom facilities.

Private schools have adopted similar guidelines, which have varied from school to school.

Christopher Smith, principal at Saint Joseph Regional School in Keene, a parochial school that serves students from pre-kindergarten through grade 8 (a sister school, Our Lady of Mercy Academy, opened last year and serves grades 9 through 12), said he pays attention to the guidelines the local school district is following as well as the 20 other Catholic schools in the diocese as well as what the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services recommends.

“We look at the (state’s) interactive map and can check how many new cases there are per 100,000 in the county,” he said. “We check it weekly and make decisions based on that information.”

This school year, most students have worn masks indoors.

“We have not had any transmission at the school,” said Smith. Some students’ family members and friends have tested positive and those students were quarantined at home.

Last month, the number of cases per 100,000 was around 600, and that number declined in October.

“If that number gets to 100 or lower, mask wearing will become a parental choice,” he said. Right now, he added, the other diocese schools are employing a mixture of mask-wearing guidelines: some are requiring it and at others, it’s optional.

While remote and hybrid learning was in place at Saint Joseph’s last school year, all learning has been in-person for the 2021-2022 school year.

At Mountain Shadows, a school in Dublin that serves children in 1st through 8th grade, had a plan ready but never adopted remote or hybrid learning: they just moved the classroom outdoors.

“We put up tents and fire pits,” said assistant director, Casey Jones. “We have an outdoor curriculum anyway that’s designed for kids to feel comfortable being in the woods and become stewards of the land.”

“We created a classroom for students to make everything (from wood) they feel they need outside — chairs, platforms, fire pits, shelves for tools,” said Jones. Wood is the material used for art projects, so students return everything they make to the woods. Other materials like acorns are used for mathematics activities such as counting and learning multiplication.

While classes are primarily held outside on the school campus, inside spaces are available if needed during inclement weather with proper ventilation (open doors and windows) and mask wearing required. At times when students are not masked it is at the teacher’s discretion, Jones added, and when they can be socially distanced.

The number of outdoor classes and activities were increased at the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

Dave Mazza, director of campus services at Dublin Christian Academy, a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade day and boarding school, said the school made an initial robust response to the pandemic for the 2020-2021 school year.

“We came up with a tiered response from green to red,” said Mazza, “red being fully remote learning, orange a hybrid in-person and remote learning, yellow meaning accommodations were made for those those with higher transmission or infection rate and green as close to normal as possible, with tools for each tier.”

The school references much of the state’s data on COVID-19 transmission and spread in schools.

We make sure our (health safety) plan is flexible enough to accommodate changes as learned through (the state’s) research.

Daily screening and enhanced school cleaning practices and enhanced testing capabilities were also put into place. Students are now asked whether they have symptoms or have had contact with anyone who tested positive for COVID-19, and their temperature is checked before entering school each day. More nursing staff was also hired.

The school’s target is 100 percent compliance to the guidelines by faculty, staff and students each day.

“We’ve been able to hit that window most days,” said Mazza. If parents aren’t able to provide that needed information about their child, they are screened by a nurse.

“We understand (this system) depends on parent compliance, so we stress effective communication,” said Mazza. “We believe (parents) are the first line of defense. They need to buy into what we are doing and help us if we are going to stay in school in-person.”

Earlier on in the pandemic, the school worked with a local hospital to test for COVID-19 but the results could take several days.

State funding the school received paid for a molecular testing unit for testing to be done on-campus with less time needed for results.

“It’s not as sensitive as a full lab test but it gives us an early indicator,” said Mazza. “We are able to test right away and do contact tracing.”

Since the new daily screening was put in place this school year, staff was able to determine a couple of students with family members that had tested positive for COVID-19 and respond accordingly.

“We were able to transition to an elevated risk level, with some hybrid learning for a week and cohorting.” Cohorting is a system of grouping individuals together and keeping them together.

While vaccinations are encouraged at Dublin Christian Academy, they are not required for faculty and staff — although Mazza said many are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mask use isn’t mandated either, although encouraged for faculty, staff and students as they move through the halls.

“We had one last year but we’ve had no (COVID-19) outbreaks this year,” said Mazza. “While we are thankful for that, we know we are not above it and we need to stay vigilant.”

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