LANGDON — The Fall Mountain Regional School District plans to open the 2020-2021 school year using a hybrid instructional model, with students attending classes at their school building on alternate days, according to district officials.
Fall Mountain Regional School District Superintendent Lori Landry discussed the framework of the district’s reopening plan at the Fall Mountain School Board meeting Monday night. Approximately 50 people, including school officials, parents and stakeholders, joined the meeting by Google Meet to hear the plan.
While some components of the plan are still in development, Landry said the overall framework will split students into smaller cohorts and alternate their days of attendance in their designated school in an effort to reduce occupancy in buildings and busses and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“We want to make sure we’re looking out for the safety of our students and staff,” Landry said. “The only way to do that is to reduce the number of students in the building at one time.”
Fall Mountain, a cooperative district consisting of five communities, serves a total population of 1,550 students across 12 institutions. Charlestown students represent the largest portion of the district’s students.
Schedules will vary based on the school’s grade range — elementary (grades K-4), middle (grades 5-8) and high school (grades 9-12) — but all students will attend school in-person between two to three days each week, or every other school day, and spending the other days in remote instruction. In some cases, like middle school grades, the classroom instruction will be streamed online for students at home, and student online attendance will be mandatory.
“It’s imperative that our middle school students are online remotely with us and have five day schedules,” Landry said.
Students and staff will be required to wear masks “at all times” in the school buildings, though students will have opportunities to go outside for mask breaks, Landry said. Students will not need to wear their masks at recess if they follow the recommended social distancing guidelines.
The school will provide masks for students who need one, though Landry recommended that students bring their own.
Fall Mountain School Board member Scott Bushway suggested that the district also make masks mandatory for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, even though the plan only recommends masks for their age group.
Based on his observations of children attending summer programs, “the kids who are three to five years old are better about keeping their masks on than the six to 12-year-olds,” Bushway said.
Landry said the district will take that under consideration.
For additional precautions, students will have their temperature taken daily before boarding the school bus or entering the school; hand sanitizer stations will be available in classrooms and throughout the buildings; regular hand-washing will be required; classrooms will be disinfected each day and busses twice per day; and visitors will not be permitted into the school buildings.
Landry also said parents of morning bus riders will need to wait with their child until the bus monitor takes the child’s temperature. Additionally, parents should be available during the school day in the event their child has cold-or flu-like symptoms.
Dividing students into alternating cohorts will also allow bus transportation to provide recommended spacing between students.
Bus routes are still being drawn, but the district believes with reduced student capacity the busses will be able deliver student transportation needs without increasing the number of routes. District Fall Mountain Regional School District Chief Financial Officer Jim Fenn said that the busses are equipped to carry a maximum capacity of 24 students, plus the driver and one bus monitor, with one student per seat, or two per seat if the students are siblings.
Some plans are still in development, including logistics within the individual schools. Schools need to determine how to handle classroom changes, including whether the teachers should change classrooms instead of the students.
In case of high school, students will generally have to move between classrooms, as many rooms are specially equipped for certain subjects. Richard Town, principal of Fall Mountain Regional High School, said that he is working with faculty and staff on the plan, which may include staggering schedules to minimize hallway traffic.
School officials reiterated that the district’s reopening plan is subject to change depending on the outlook in the coming weeks or months.
Landry said the district’s plan includes a contingency for a potential return to fully-remote instruction in the event that New Hampshire schools have to close again.
On the question of teachers who may be unwilling to teach in school because of health concerns, Landry said the district will look at individual concerns on a “case-by-case basis.”
“I don’t think it will be a major problem because most faculty want to be back at school,” Landry said.
Landry also said that employees typically need to have a documented disability or health issue that would warrant working remotely rather than in the school.
“It can’t be just because you’re anxious,” she said.