Berlin School Board gets school reopening plan tonight

SAU 3 Superintendent of Schools Julie King attracted over 100 people to an video overview of the proposed school reopening plan Tuesday night. (BARBARA TETREAULT PHOTO)

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — The school board will be asked to approve the reopening plan for Berlin’s two schools at its meeting tonight.

Put together with the help of a 40-member committee, the plan reopens the schools as long as the number of active COVID-19 cases in Coos County remains low. If the number of positive cases increases, the plan provides for learning to go remote on both a temporary basis or for an extended period depending on the circumstances.

Recognizing there is a public debate nationwide on reopening schools, the plan provides a remote option for vulnerable students or students with vulnerable family members.

Reviewing the plan Tuesday night on Zoom to receive feedback from parents, Superintendent of Schools Julie King stressed there are still details that are being developed.

“Never have we entered a year with so many unknowns,” she said, noting that the current situation changes daily.

King said the goal of the 35-page plan is to minimize the risk for students to return to school while providing a quality education. Another goal is to a provide a smoother transition if the pandemic requires the district to move in and out of a virtual learning mode for all.

Similar to weather calls, King said she, SAU 20 Superintendent Dave Backler, and White Mountains Community College President Chuck Lloyd will closely monitor indicators to determine the safety of onsite learning.

“Instead of watching road conditions, however, we will be closely monitoring the viral situation and health markers in Coos County, as well as in our immediate valley,” King said.

If the number of COVID-19 cases are low, schools will be open or in a green phase. If the number of active cases increases or there is a positive cast of a student or staff, instruction will switch to remote on a temporary basis or a yellow phase. If numbers continue to rise or there are multiple confirmed positive cases of students and/or staff, the district would transition to a red phase, which provides for a sustained period of remote learning.

In the green phase, elementary students in grades k-3, will attend school Monday through Friday for face-to-face instruction. Students on remote learning will attend virtual classroom instruction Monday through Friday. King said it was felt that the young students are still in their formative years and being in-class with staff is best for them.

Students in grades four and five will attend school on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday on a modified schedule and work offsite the rest with office hours available for students on Fridays.

Middle and high school students will also attend school on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday but on a regular block schedule. The older students will work onsite the rest of the week with office hours available on Fridays. Students in grade 4-12 on remote learning will receive virtual classroom instruction on Mondays.

Career and Technical Education students will attend on-site five days a week with new pandemic guidelines in place.

King noted that the plan is not perfect and administrators would like to have students in the buildings five days a week. But spacing is hard with some of the smaller older classrooms and spaces also have to be cleaned and sanitized frequently.

Masks will be required for students and staff except for rare cases and plexiglass dividers will be used at the elementary grade levels. Extra hand sanitizer stations will be set up throughout the buildings. Parents will be asked to screen their children at home and take their temperature. Students will be screened again at school.

The administration is working on bus routes but King said they are asking parents to help out with transportation. Social distancing on buses will reduce normal capacity.

King was asked how lunch will be handled. She said the younger students will eat in the cafeteria while the older students will eat in their classrooms. King was asked about isolation rooms. She said each building will have an isolation room where students or staff who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 can be kept apart from others.

Asked about sports, King said Athletic Director Craig Melanson is working out the details with guidelines provided last week by the NH Interscholastic Athletic Association. She said it appears there is some flexibility on allowing teams from local school districts to play each other even if they are not in the same division.

King said the hope is the board will approve the plan Thursday and then they can start to identify students that will be in-school and those that will stay with remote learning. Copies of the plan and the video of Tuesday’s meeting can be found on the SAU 3 Facebook page.

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