CONCORD — For the behavioral health and psychological well-being of the state’s children, Gov. Chris Sununu said at his Thursday news conference that he will issue an emergency order requiring school districts to return them to classrooms for at least two days a week starting March 8.
“The data is all very clear whether it is the state, the CDC, everyone has said that there is no reason,” not to open all schools, that they have “to come into at least a hybrid level of learning,” Sununu said.
“It isn’t just so that kids can have a fuller, robust learning model,” Sununu said. “It is for the behavioral mental health and well-being” of those children who are suffering from the isolation caused by the virus.
Megan Tuttle, president of the teachers union, NEA-NH, told Sununu on Twitter that he is late to the game.
“Educators and districts have already worked together to reopen more than 80 percent of New Hampshire schools for at least two to three days a week of in-person instruction — some for even more days each week,” she said.
“The governor was late to the game on recommending safety protocols for schools. He still has not responded to our repeated requests to meet to work together on this issue. And now, late again and at the last minute, he issues an Emergency Order to mandate schools provide some measure of in-person instruction. We have no doubt that we will see this action on his list of ‘accomplishments’ as he begins his run for Senate,” Tuttle said.
She said Sununu did not reopen schools — New Hampshire’s educators and administrators have worked creatively and collaboratively to get the work done.
“Let’s be clear — this new emergency order does very little to change the current landscape of open school buildings, impacting only a small number of schools that are not yet offering some degree of in-person instruction,” Tuttle said.
Sununu announced the emergency school order at the press conference as state officials said they are having to expand emergency psychological health housing for children who are waiting in emergency rooms. Sununu said the pandemic and its isolation “vastly exacerbated” that crisis for children and science has shown that classrooms are safe.
“We see that in the number of kids waiting in our emergency rooms for a bed,” Sununu said.
About 60 percent of all public schools in grades kindergarten through 12 have some form of hybrid learning, he said. About 40 percent of all those schools are now offering fully in-person learning. Fewer than a half-dozen school districts have been fully remote.
Sununu said he will not require what days a week the schools be open but as of March 8, schools need to offer in-person learning unless they get some sort of waiver from the state Department of Education.
He noted almost a year ago, on March 16, 2020, “the state did make a tough decision to bring all schools remote.” Sununu noted in the months that followed last March’s closing the state developed a guidance document by state epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan that would allow for schools to stay open and what criteria to consider for closing and going to remote learning.
He said the next group of residents to get vaccinated will be about 50,000 teachers and staff and he hoped that will begin in early April. While there has been some concern raised by teachers’ unions about safety, “we are going back to the way it was,” before COVID-19, he said.