Londonderry residents, students react to school reopening ideas

TIM JEAN/File photoLondonderry school officials are working on possible ways to safely reopen schools this fall. The plans could include giving families a choice of whether to send students back in person, or to continue a remote learning plan at home.

LONDONDERRY — Students, parents and others are offering their views on what might become a unique and non-traditional way for Londonderry students to return to school in the fall.

After hearing a presentation July 14 from school administrators about how Londonderry students might safely return to the classroom, some are saying there are still many questions to be answered before a final plan is put in place.

Administrators presented an overview of a plan for reopening schools, saying it was all about safety, flexibility and making sure everything was right and ready to go, or change, at a moment's notice.

“It’s a tremendous weight and obligation to do the best for Londonderry," said Superintendent Scott Laliberte." We are trying to design student learning under historic circumstances.”

The extensive plan includes ways for the district to design not only its physical space for students in grades kindergarten through 12, but also how to make sure the learning community, educators, and curriculum meets the needs of everyone.

A big piece of the reopening puzzle is making sure safety guidelines are followed, focusing on national and state health/safety information and recommendations, while also tailoring Londonderry’s plan to be specific to the district.

Families may be given a choice of how they want the fall to look for their child's education. That could include an in-person plan, hybrid plan with part in-person, part remote, or a total remote learning model.

The plan also includes strict and clear response if or when anyone in the school system is infected with COVID-19.

There are many unknowns.

Tina McGuirk has a daughter entering her junior year at Londonderry High. She said the school district faces some difficult decisions.

"Considering the virus spreads so easily sometimes via asymptomatic people, it is best to social distance as much as possible for the fall season," McGuirk, a nurse, said.

She added that perhaps there is a middle ground solution that could combine both in-person and at home learning.

"I think some children struggle more with focusing on work when they are not within the walls of a school building talking with their teachers," McGuirk added. "These kids may need the more structured environment that being in school and seeing their teachers in person brings to understand their lessons and succeed."

Former school board member Nancy Hendricks questioned whether the district could ensure that younger students in preschool or kindergarten could keep a mask on for the entire day if recommended.

Moose Hill School, that houses the district's kindergarten and preschool programs, has also been the focus of space needs studies in past months, prior to the onset of COVID-19.

"In a building that has already had space issues, how will you keep students spaced properly in a building when you already have space challenges," Hendricks asked.

Tatiana Smith, the mother of a second-grader at South School, said she was concerned about children wearing masks during school.

"I'm very much opposed to children being required to wear masks," she said. "There is plenty of evidence that there is a whole lot of levels of oxygen inside a mask, levels of carbon dioxide. These levels are off the charts high. I haven't heard anything about protecting our children's right to be human, to have a normal childhood."

Resident Tony DeFranscesco said he agreed with wearing masks and added, the school district has the right to make that recommendation or even require masks be worn.

"If you all decide students are going to wear masks, you are going to have to do the same thing, like if you take a cellphone away or the wearing of clothing that's inappropriate for a proper school environment," he said. "I think that's an easy one, and I think it's a good idea."

Students are also pondering the best way to return.

Addisen Demas, 11, will be a sixth-grader at Londonderry Middle School. She said she is ready to head back to the classroom.

"My brother didn't like remote learning, but my parents told me I was pretty good at it," she said. "I didn't like it, but I had to do it. But I really want to go back."

Addisen said she looked forward to participating again in her favorite things in school including volleyball, playing the flute and doing a lot of reading.

She said she missed two things — all the after school activities and the the drama club.

"We couldn't have our cast party," she said. "I'm looking forward to going back."

Chloe Ferraro, 16, will be a senior at Londonderry High School. She said she is also ready to return.

"I struggled a lot with online learning," she said. "I needed more visual learning. It all happened so fast. I think we are going to do our best to follow all the guidelines."

Chloe said her mother is an educator and is also ready to send her daughter back to the classroom.

"She would like to get back too," Chloe said.

And using a mask? Absolutely, Chloe added.

A public forum was scheduled for this week to continue discussion on the best ways to move forward with a reopening plan. No decisions were to be made at that point.

Families will have time to select what option they are interested in and make a decision by Aug. 12. Those options would be an in-person return, remote instruction for the year, or to leave the district to transfer, homeschool or make other plans.

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