Several options being considered for Derrry reopening plan

DERRY NEWS/File photoSchool officials are working on plans to safely reopen schools in Derry this fall.

DERRY — There is still much study and work to be done before final decisions are made about how to safely return to the classroom in Derry.

And those plans, officials say, are still a work in progress as they move closer to finding the best way to educate the district's students.

That includes a strong sense of safety, flexibility and making sure both students and staff are ready to return with guidelines in place to ensure safe distancing, good health and increased cleaning measures, and the overall well-being of everyone kept in mind.

Any plan put in place also has to be ready to be shifted and altered at a moment's notice due to changes COVID-19 numbers, officials added.

School board members got an overview of what a reopening plan might look like in Derry during its July 14 meeting. Superintendent MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian and Assistant Superintendent Austin Garofalo led the presentation, saying there are several options being studied and no decisions have been made yet.

"The reopening process is involved and will require a great deal of flexibility," Connors-Krikorian said in a letter sent home to families earlier this summer.  "I am most grateful for your patience and understand that these challenging times are most difficult for each of you. Please let your children know that we miss them."

The school reopening presentation came on the same day as Gov. Chris Sununu released the state's guidelines and recommendations for schools.

Derry's plan is a "work in progress," Connors-Krikorian said, adding it's been a big team effort to plan for the fall.

"And some things may change due to updated guidelines and feedback," she said.

The superintendent said a lot of good work has gone into formulating the options for returning to school, with a task force in place made up of many stakeholders including administration, community members, educators, health experts and more, giving input and thoughts on the best way to return.

Families were also surveyed about their thoughts and concerns.

Right now, Derry is studying three options — a full-time, face to face opening; a hybrid model where students in certain groups, or cohorts, would stagger the days they are physically in class with remaining time to be spent in remote learning; and an option that is completely remote learning when an on-site option is not available.

A full-time, physical return would require classroom layouts with less students per class, and desks arranged facing the same direction and 3- to 6-feet apart; increased cleaning processes, recommended face coverings, and less family or visitor interaction allowed inside the buildings. Children may eat lunches in their classrooms and unified arts classes would also need to be modified to keep safety at the forefront.

A hybrid model could have students attending in-person classes part of the week and doing remote learning for the remainder. The third option would be a total return to remote learning.

"We are all hoping we will not have to go to a fully remote model," Garofalo said.

Connors-Krikorian said she hopes to ease anxiety any family may have and said as much information is being provided as possible as a final decision gets closer.

Board member Brenda Willis said all is being done to make sure students and staff can return safely. She said buildings in the district are already preparing for a potential in-person return.

"So many pieces are being put in place to add to safely of students coming back," Willis said. "We are doing things to our buildings and planning with supplies."

Business administrator Jane Simard said the district is well-stocked already with personal protective gear, and custodial staff is being trained on extra measures needed to maintain safety and good health.

District educator Meg Morse-Barry, also a leader with the Derry Education Association, called into the meeting, saying she was left a little disappointed with the governor's announcement for reopening schools and hoped for "more clear" guidelines for the health and safety of the entire education community in New Hampshire.

More information will be made available at July 28 board meeting.

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