CONWAY — Superintendent Kevin Richard told the Conway School Board Monday night that students and staff will open the school year on Sept. 2 wearing masks indoors but not outside if they can social-distance adequately.
“If the conditions are what they are right now, which I don’t expect big changes over the next five, six days, that will be the case,” Richard said Monday about masking.
Richard said parents and guardians have been made aware to have their children wear masks to school on Sept. 2.
“We’ll probably send out a reminder later this week or early next week,” he said by phone Tuesday.
The SAU 9 Re-Entry Plan uses a color chart for operating conditions. Green is “minimal indicators of concern.” Yellow delineates “some indicators trend at elevated levels moving school operations to follow modified protocols and procedures.” Red is “multiple indicators trend at elevated levels moving school operations to strict protocols and procedures.”
Under green, masks will be optional. Under yellow, masking will be based on current indicators and state and federal guidelines. If a school reaches red, masks will be required at all times.
Conway is currently in the yellow zone. At Monday’s meeting, Richard said there are 16 active COVID-19 cases in Carroll County, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Twelve more cases were reported in the county Tuesday and 290 new cases were announced statewide.
Board member Ryan Wallace sought clarity on the color chart. “When you’re operating in the yellow school environment, the re-entry plan states we’ll be following the CDC guidance, and then some other entities. What are those?” he asked.
Richard said state DHHS, CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are the chief guidelines the district is using.
“Is it worth having a conversation about a more local entity?” Wallace asked. “Because what’s happening in Conway is drastically different than what’s happening in Nashua, New York, Florida or anywhere else in the country.”
“Absolutely,” Richard replied. “And that’s what this does — the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. And one of the biggest factors is what’s happening in our school, right? So we know that come Sept. 5, 6, kids don’t have to quarantine except if you’re positive. We know in that environment, it’s going to be a big game-changer compared to last year, when we started the year and (quarantined an) entire cohorts or entire classes.”
He continued: “Now what I think you’ll see is ... you won’t see classes go out necessarily until you see a cluster, which is three or more (cases) within a small group.”
Richard added: “We have the weekly testing (data) from Memorial Hospital, but that doesn’t necessarily separate out exactly all the local people from Conway or Fryeburg Academy kids coming over. There are a ton of variables that go into it, and I wish it were an easy piece of the pie.”
Wallace asked if 16 cases put Conway into the yellow phase, “How quickly do we get to a red situation? Or, how do we ever get to a green situation?”
“We were in green in June,” Richard said. “We had 20 cases per 100,000. There were no cases. We had summer programs, the rec centers had programs, we had school to career camps, all those things, but the numbers were really low.”
Richard said the district “is trying to be a little more conservative” and “kids are coming back to schools. We don’t know what those cohorts are necessarily going to look like right away.”
The 13-page re-entry plan, which is on the SAU 9 website (tinyurl.com/265hev52), was recommended 9-3-1 by the SAU 9 Board when it met Aug. 12.
The Conway School Board approved the re-entry plan by a 5-0 vote following the SAU 9 meeting on Aug. 12.
The Bartlett School Board also approved the plan by a 3-2 vote, in a special meeting and the Jackson School Board unanimously approved the SAU 9 Re-Entry Plan on Aug. 16.
“The (Conway) board adopted the SAU 9 Re-Entry Plan with a caveat,” Richard said. “If conditions go from yellow to green, where masks would be optional, the board wants to have a say in whether they will be optional or not.”
Under public comments, Rebecca Miller of Madison asked the board to look at how Conway Parks and Recreation Department pulled off a mask-optional summer with a record number of camper visits but no reported cases of the coronavirus.
“Conway Rec was indoors and outdoors mask-optional, 5,600 visits and no cases that needs to stand for something and none of you even asked Conway Rec about that,” she said.
Miller then mentioned that a member of the district’s pandemic response team, Dr. Rich Laracy of Saco River Medical Group, was seen without a mask at a concert last month.
“I can tell you July 21, the person that you’re consulting with medically was in New York at a Bruce Springsteen concert,” she said. “New York was what through the roof (in COVID cases), and went maskless. So the hypocrisy is through the freaking roof.”
According to the Springsteen website, “The Boss” did not perform July 21. He was at the St. James Theatre in New York City on July 17, then took a month off from his “Springsteen on Broadway” show. Concert-goers were required to show proof of vaccine or a negative COVID test in order to attend.
Dr. Laracy could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.