CONWAY — The SAU 9 Board voted to recommend that students begin the 2020-21 school year with face-to-face learning in the seven schools in the district.
Board members come from the Albany, Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Eaton, Hart’s Location and Jackson school boards.
Meeting in person for the first time since March 13 n the Loynd Auditorium at Kennett High School and via Zoom on Thursday night, board members first voted 15-3 to approve the SAU 9 Re-Entry Committee Plan, a 35-page document crafted by 50 community members over the past seven weeks.
Voting in the minority were Jeanette West of Albany, and Jerry Dougherty and Kate Fournier, both of Jackson.
The board then voted 13-4-1 to recommend a return to face-to-face learning. West and Fournier were again in the minority, along with Majka Bernhardt of Jackson and Randy Davison of Conway. Dougherty abstained.
Based on those recommendations, individual school boards were to make their decisions this week or early next week.
The Conway School Board (Bill Aughton, Courtney Burke, Dr. Michelle Capozzoli, Davison, Joe Lentini, Joe Mosca and Jess Whitelaw) met Monday night to decide whether students at Kennett High School, Kennett Middle, Conway Elementary, John H. Fuller Elementary and Pine Tree School in Conway would meet face-to-face, remotely or a hybrid of those two options. However, results were not available until after press time.
The Bartlett School Board (Rob Clark, Dr. Ivette Emery, Scott Grant, Nancy Kelemen and Andrew Light) are scheduled to meet today (Tuesday) at 6 p.m. to decide for Josiah Bartlett Elementary School in Bartlett.
The Jackson School Board (Genn Anzaldi, Keith Bradley, Burhardt, Dougherty and Fournier) will decide for Jackson Grammar School on Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. in the Whitney Center.
The SAU Board has scheduled a special meeting Aug. 27 to revisit the re-entry strategy should the number of COVID cases in the Mount Washington Valley increase.
Up in Coos County, the Berlin School Board has set up green, yellow and red phases that its district will go to in the event there are a rise in cases.
The first day of class for SAU 9 was originally going to be Aug. 31, with teachers set to return Aug. 26. But Superintendent Kevin Richard asked that opening day be pushed to Sept. 8 to allow staff to prepare and for school orientations to take place.
Matthew Liebenow and Chris Bailey, co-presidents of the Conway Education Association (teachers union) issued a joint statement last Friday.
“The additional preparation time prior to the start of school will greatly benefit students and teachers," they said. "We have been working with administrators to help develop students and staff schedules that align with the State and CDC Guidelines for safely reopening."
Thursday's meeting was met with some frustration from the 68 people who tried to follow the meeting on Zoom as it was difficult to hear who was speaking in the auditorium.
Valley Vision (Channel 3) did cover the meeting, which is scheduled to air today at 5 p.m.
Richard went over the re-entry plan through a series of slides. He said SAU 9 surveyed parents, garnering 1,100 responses. Of those, 75.8 percent wanted face-to-face learning, while 24.2 percent preferred distance learning.
“That really wasn’t too surprising as statewide, superintendents are finding 75 percent of families prefer face-to-face instruction," Richard said.
Of school staff surveyed, 42.9 percent preferred face-to-face learning, while 25.6 percent wanted distance learning. and 31.5 percent were comfortable with either method.
At school, teachers are encouraged to hold class outside as often as possible, Richard said. To that end, SAU 9 has purchased seven large tents to use as outdoor classrooms.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to provide a quality education for the students,” he said, adding that remote learning, while a necessity last spring, was not the same as in-person education.
“We know that going remote had a negative effect on a number of students, staff and families," he said.
The most discussed topic of the night centered around masks.
Richard said masks are required to be worn by students and staff when in the buildings.
“Mask-using, we feel, is an important part of the plan,” he said, adding that the district is purchasing masks for students and staff, and disposable masks will be available for visitors.
“What happens if students don’t comply?” Tim Corgi of the Albany board asked.
“Education is going to be the key,” Richard said. “I equate it to wearing safety glasses — we can agree you need them in some classes; masks are needed in all classes today.”
He added that if there is non-compliance, it would “probably be dealt with at the disciplinary level.”
Nella Thompson of the Eaton board felt there is a difference between getting a 17-year-old to wear a mask and a younger student.
“I think we have to give children more credit than we are giving them,” said Dr. Rich Laracy, a pediatrician who served on the screening committee. He said he has seen young children in his office at Saco River Medical Group respect the need to wear a mask. “I really haven’t seen any children have a problem.”
Dr. Wenda Saunders, from Memorial Hospital, and also on the screening committee, agreed.
“I compare masks to car safety seats. Most of our children at times do not want to be in a car seat, but we as parents insist that they do.”