0605 Online Stevens High School commencement 2019

In this Thursday, June 6, 2019, photo, many members of the Stevens High School graduating class sport the now-traditional decorated mortarboards.

CLAREMONT — The Claremont School District is forming a study committee to explore viable instruction options next school year if educational institutions can’t resume traditional learning, Claremont Superintendent Michael Tempesta told the school board Wednesday.

The New Hampshire Department of Education is still forming its school reopening plan for the 2020-2021 school year, but Tempesta said that a traditional reopening, where students and teachers fully return to the classrooms, “is highly unlikely.”

“What we’re most likely planning for is a hybrid [model], or people have also spoken about staggered schedules and other possibilities,” Tempesta told the board.

The state Department of Education is still studying options for the eventual reopening of schools. An appointed task force - the School Transition, Reopening and Restructuring Taskforce (STRRT) - recently closed a statewide survey filled out by parents and educators. The task force expects to submit their preliminary recommendations to the governor and education commissioner on June 30.

In Claremont, a similarly purposed committee will explore different instructional models and options in regard to the local district to facilitate district planning and further inform STRRT’s study.

Tempesta said that the committee will likely comprise of 10 to 15 members and include district administrators, faculty, staff, school board representatives and parents.

“We want to get many viewpoints on how those different models will play out in our schools,” the superintendent said. “Obviously we want to have the best possible environment for our students.

Claremont School Board Vice-Chair Rebecca Zullo volunteered to join the committee.

A “hybrid” model generally means a combination of in-class instruction and remote leaning. One possibility under consideration is a staggered schedule, in which a class of students is divided into smaller groups that alternate days in the classroom.

Tempesta said that whatever the state decides, his goal was to return learning “as close to normalcy as possible.”

Financially, the district expects to have sufficient funding through virus-related aid to schools, which the district will use to strengthen its remote learning resources and redesign classrooms for adequate social distancing, according to Tempesta. The district plans to ensure that all student’s homes have internet connectivity, which might include setting up special Wi-Fi hotspots that only connect with the student’s school Chromebook. Next year, every Claremont student will have a personal Chromebook, a plan that the district already intended to implement prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tempesta said that most classrooms in Claremont are large enough to accommodate smaller class sizes safely if using a staggered schedule. The district may also consider purchasing different types of furniture, such as tables, to allow students to learn while spacing them at least six feet apart, as recommended by state and federal health guidelines.

District’s attorney explains graduation attendance restrictions

Each graduating senior at Stevens High School will be able to bring two vehicles of family or friends to the graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 11, at the Claremont Motorsports Park. However, other members of the public will not be allowed to attend, said Matt Upton, attorney for the school district.

In an update for the school board, Upton said that Gov. Chris Sununu’s office remains firm about “scheduled gatherings,” which includes graduation ceremonies, and not having more than 10 people in congregation, even if the event is outside.

“There’s been a lot of confusion [in the community] and perceptions that if we’re social distancing and outside that everything is fine, but that just is not the case,” Upton said. “The governor’s office has been very consistent to this extent that they do not want people gathering.”

Based on conversations with the governor’s office, Upton said that schools may hold ceremonies in which guests remain in their cars. The governor’s office will allow people to exit a vehicle to take a photo, provided the total number of people - including the school administrators and photographer who are already outside - does not exceed the maximum.

However, the Claremont ceremony plans for all guests, including the graduate, to remain in their vehicles, including when each student receives their diploma. According to Stevens High School Principal Pat Barry, a professional photographer will take individual pictures of each graduate.

Tempesta said that letting friends and families out to take photographs could pose safety issues.

“The perspective was that if everyone was able to exit the car and circle around to take pictures, it could quickly turn into a free-for-all, and controlling that can be hard once the ceremony starts,” Tempesta said.

Claremont School Board Chair Frank Sprague said that Stevens High School eliminated the practice of letting parents come forward to take photos during the handing out of diplomas several years ago. Since then the school has entrusted a professional photographer to take those pictures.

“It’s a safety issue,” Sprague said. “But quite frankly,we can get a much better photograph [of the graduate] with a professional.”

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