Londonderry board approves plan for school return

TIM JEAN/Staff photoThe message sign at Londonderry High read "Thank You Essential Workers" earlier this year. The high school will open for the new year with a hybrid option, with students alternating in-person days at school with remote learning days.

LONDONDERRY — The school district has a detailed plan for reopening its six buildings this fall, with a combination of an all in-person, hybrid and remote models giving students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12 what’s being recommended as the safest way to be educated.

School board members voted at a meeting Aug. 4 to approve a recommended and revised plan for an in-person return model for grades kindergarten through eight and an alternating day hybrid model for high school students.

Families can also choose an all-remote learning option. School is scheduled to start Sept. 8

Administrators presented an overview of a reopening plan at a school board meeting last month, telling the board it’s a plan created to also be adaptable to changing circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A big piece of the reopening puzzle is making sure safety guidelines are followed, focusing on national and state health and safety information and recommendations, while also tailoring Londonderry’s plan to be specific to the district, following a “six layers of safety” approach to creating the safe barriers for students and staff. The plan also includes a clear response if or when anyone in the school system is infected with the virus.

The plan stresses safe distancing in classrooms, mandatory wearing of masks for students and staff, keeping students to specific cohorts or groupings during the day, less changing of classes and movement throughout various buildings, and how to handle extra curricular activities, sports, music, physical education, dining services and transportation.

Many parents had spoken out at a prior public workshop urging the district to make masks mandatory.

Prior to coming to school, families will also be required to follow specific protocols to make sure their students are healthy.

For kindergarten, elementary and middle school students, the in-person plan would keep students in small groups, with minimal movement during the typical day. Students will also have time for mask breaks.

High school students would take on the hybrid approach, with students alternating days they attend in person, and studying remotely on the others. That would keep the number of students in the building more manageable with half of the total, about 725 students, studying in person at a time.

Jason Parent, the high school principal, said with so many students, the hybrid approach was the best choice, not only giving the school the opportunity to keep classes smaller, but also to reduce congestion on buses, in hallways and in other common spaces around the building.

School Superintendent Scott Laliberte called the planning process “an incredible undertaking,” adding more information and specific details will be coming soon as parents prepare their children and staff begins the work to be trained and prepare their school spaces.

“It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, but also the beginning," Laliberte said.

The superintendent said a lot of good input from the community was taken into consideration in the planning, including survey results, emails and calls to the district.

Laliberte added families would have a two-week window after making a decision on what type of return to school they prefer, with some students possibly asking to switch from one model to another during that time frame if circumstances change.

Former school board member Nancy Hendricks thanked all involved in the reopening process.

“This is hard stuff,” Hendricks said. “None of us have lived through a pandemic. There is no model we can point to. You are giving people choices. Your community is looking to you for leadership and confidence in what is the most difficult of circumstances.”

Information on the reopening plan is on the school district site at londonderry.org.

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