BERLIN — The Berlin school district moved to five-day-a-week in-person learning Monday after Gov. Chris Sununu rejected the district’s request for a waiver. The district sought a waiver to be able to finish the remaining eight weeks of the school year in its hybrid mode.
Superintendent of Schools Julie King said the district was told late Wednesday afternoon that the governor had denied the waiver request. Anticipating Sununu was unlikely to approve the waiver, school administration, staff and teachers spent hours working on a back-up plan that they have now put in place.
The changes being implemented to comply with the governor’s order were outlined at Thursday’s school board meeting. King stressed that a lot of work went into the new schedule which required changing class schedules, bus runs and duty schedules. She said it was like August all over again when the hybrid plan for the school year was developed and the schools prepared.
“It’s been a tough week for everyone,” King said.
The superintendent said every effort is being made to keep 3 feet of physical distancing in both the schools and on the buses. In some cases, she said it may not be possible. But King said all other layers of protection will remain in place including masks, hand washing, sanitizing and disinfecting and barriers.
Throughout the process, the district worked to preserve the remote option for parents who wanted their students to continue in that mode for the remaining weeks of the school year. King said parents can change pathways but warned that students wanting to come on-site after being remote should not show up until the school has been notified. She said arrangements have to be made for space and furniture.
Berlin Middle High School Principal Mike Kelley said as of Thursday he had 15 remote students coming back to in-person learning but said he expected more as the word got out. The morning start time for on-site high school and Career Technology Center students will be moved up 11 minutes to 7:25 a.m. and the block times will be adjusted. The students will be on-site five days a week with the last block of the day, from 12:59 p.m. to 2:16 p.m. flexible time. During that block, remote students will be taught by Zoom from Monday through Thursday. Bus schedules will remain the same.
At the middle school, students will follow their normal school day schedule but will be on-site five days a week. A schedule has been developed for remote students providing classes Monday through Thursday.
Kelley said he wanted to thank his staff and teachers for their input and feedback.
“The actual plan that we adopted was a couple of different teachers’ plans melded into one with some tweaking by the administration. So, it was a lot of input from people,” he said.
Berlin Elementary School Principal Tammy Fauteux said about 40 students will be moving out of remote and into on-site learning but said the current class schedule can absorb them. Starting Monday, the on-site students will go a full day with students in grades K-2 dismissed at 2:30 p.m. and grades 3-5 at 2:40 p.m. The full school day allows 45 minutes for specialty classes, like art, physical education, library and music instead of 30 minutes. Fauteux said the school will also be able to maintain the 3-foot social distancing. She also praised the work of her staff.
In other business:
• Attorney Michael J. Tierney from Wadleigh, Starr & Peters met with the board by Zoom to discuss the so-called Con-Val lawsuit against the state over school funding.
Con-Val and three other school districts sued the state in Superior Court in March 2019, claiming the state has failed to meet its constitutional duty to fund an adequate education for New Hampshire students. The court granted the school district’s request for a summary judgement but the state appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
In a ruling handed down last month, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to Superior Court to allow for a full trial to determine the cost of an adequate education. The state currently pays about $3,600 per pupil which the school districts charge is woefully inadequate.
Berlin joined other school district is filing a brief in Supreme Court in support of the school districts.
Tierney said the Berlin school district and others have a window of opportunity to join the lawsuit . He said the districts have a few weeks to decide if they want to join.
Tierney estimated the cost of pursuing the lawsuit will be $250,000 which will be shared among all those involved. He said the percentage each district would pay would be negotiated among the parties with larger districts likely picking up a bigger share of the cost than smaller ones. The more districts join the suit, the lower the individual cost.
Student representative Lily Campbell reported the students have decided to hold their prom at the Town and Country Inn and Resort in Shelburne.
Tickets are $35 each or $70 for a couple. The capacity is 170 students with 10 chaperones.
The traditional grand march will still be held at the high school, outside if weather permits or inside if it is raining.
The dress code will be formal wear and COVID-19 protections will be followed, meaning students must dance 3 feet apart. No slow dancing will be allowed and tickets can only be purchased by a Berlin High School student.