CLAREMONT — At least 80 people in the Claremont School District, including 27 staff members, are currently in quarantine due to either testing positive or having been exposed to the novel coronavirus, otherwise referred to as COVID-19, according to district officials.
The Claremont School Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to have city schools continue with fully remote instruction until at least Monday, Feb. 1, with a plan to reevaluate on Wednesday, Jan. 27.
Claremont schools switched last week to remote instruction due to a post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases in Claremont and within the school community, with an initial plan to resume in-person instruction on Tuesday, Jan. 19, if the community case numbers stayed level or decreased.
As of Wednesday, Claremont has 95 confirmed active cases of the virus, an increase of 20 cases from the previous week.
Additionally, district administrators said there is now evidence — for the first time this school year — that some viral transmission likely occurred within one of the school buildings.
“We have three cases from one location,” said Assistant Superintendent Donna Magoon. “And when you look at the timing and that [those people] were together, that is how you determine what a cluster looks like.”
Magoon also noted that the district’s quarantine count does not include students whose families elected to quarantine. For example, some students went into quarantine just before school resumed on Jan. 3 after learning of a potential exposure at a local karate studio and daycare center during the holiday break.
This was the Claremont School Board’s first instance of a unanimous vote in support of being fully remote. In September, the school board voted 6-1 to resume full in-person instruction after starting the school year under a hybrid model. The school board also opposed a proposal before the holiday vacation, also by a 4-3 vote, to return from vacation in fully remote instruction due to concerns about a post-holiday case surge.
But some school board members, while supporting remote instruction for the present, remain concerned about when the district will be able to return students to their classrooms.
Claremont School Board Vice-Chair Heather Whitney, a nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, worries that with children in the community rather than school, the community case spread could become a perpetual cycle.
“They are [currently] offering remote-learning camps in town,” Whitney said. “Community spread is controlled when we are in lockdown . . . [but] we are not in lockdown.”
Whitney said she wanted assurance the board and district will base its determination when to reopen on thorough data and reasonable metrics.
If the district bases decisions solely on Claremont’s active case numbers, rather than also factoring the community infection rate or rapidity of cases, “our kids are going to be in remote until June,” Whitney said.
Most district parents who shared their reaction on “What’s Up Claremont,” a popular community Facebook page, said they supported the district’s decision, though some parents expressed displeasure with the new “synchronous” model, in which instruction is delivered live via a digital meeting format, because the parents cannot adjust their work schedules around their children’s academics.
Other parents on the Facebook page said they much prefer the synchronous model, which allows their children more live interaction with their teachers and peers, which did not exist in the spring, when remote learning consisted heavily of online assignments and recorded video lessons.
Stevens High School senior Prescott Herzog spoke positively of his experience so far with the school’s synchronous model.
“I’ve been able to see every single person in my classes, and I’m honestly getting more out of my STEM classes than I would have gotten in person,” Herzog said. “It’s only day three, but a couple of my friends and myself have agreed that so far remote learning has been better than expected.
Claremont is not the only area school system to extend their remote instruction into February. In the neighboring Fall Mountain Regional School District, which had originally switched from hybrid to fully remote from Nov. 30 to Jan. 19, the school board voted 3-2, with one abstention and one member absent, to extend remote instruction to Feb. 1 due to a spike in community cases.