Concord looks to fully reopen schools by fall, perhaps sooner

  • CHS principal Mike Reardon and interim superintendent Kathleen Murphy talk outside the main office at Concord High School. There is a wellness station at the entrance to the building, where everyone who enters has their temperature taken and can help themselves to gloves, masks and hand sanitizer. EILEEN O'GRADY / Monitor Staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/2/2021 4:18:58 PM

Concord School Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said Concord schools will be open full time in fall 2021, and maybe even as early as this spring, if COVID-19 numbers and health recommendations allow it.

At the Concord School Board Monday night, Murphy said she’s been thinking ahead to the district’s next steps, and believes it is time to begin planning for in-person learning five days a week in the fall, and possibly as early as May 3.

“If the conditions are appropriate for us to come back, if our teachers are vaccinated and the numbers continue to drop significantly and we continue to maintain the guidance that have been provided by CDC and the state of New Hampshire, I would like to speak to the instructional committee on March 16 to really address this,” Murphy said.

In February, Gov. Chris Sununu announced an executive order that requires schools to open for in-person learning at least two days a week by March 8. Families who choose to have their children attend classed fully remote will be allowed to continue. Concord already fulfills the governor’s requirement, with its current hybrid model that has smaller groups of students in school and at home on alternating days.

But Murphy says she hopes to increase in-person education to five days a week as soon as it is safe to do so, to begin doing the “make-up” work necessary to get kids back on their learning targets.

“I worry every day about our young kids. We have a lot of make-up work to do,” Murphy said. “I worry about their math, their reading, their phonics, their comprehension. We need to get our youngsters in to school and we need to assess them, we need to know where they’re at in their learning.”

She told the board she has been receiving more letters from families recently, advocating to send children back to school fully in person. Murphy said this is in contrast to earlier in the year, when an equal number of families were advocating for the schools to go fully remote.

Even if the school reopens completely, a remote option will still be available, she said.

School employees are slated to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the next phase of the vaccine rollout, which is supposed to begin this month, according to January’s plan summary from the N.H. Division of Public Health. With the addition of an increased vaccination supply due to approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, educators could be vaccinated by April, making it safer for them to teach in-person classes in the spring.

Murphy said the district is definitely planning to open schools “full-throttle,” in fall 2021.

“We are adamant in the planning of bringing our students back to school, that I think is critically important, not only to their own learning but to the entire economy of our country and all the family issues that go along with it,” Murphy said.

Murphy said a phased re-entry would be the most organized way of returning to in-person learning, bringing back certain grades first, like new first-graders and seniors, then others.

Board member Barb Higgins said the district should be as specific as possible in setting target goals for reopening, and used the metaphor of athletes training for an upcoming race.

“The more specifics you put in place for when these things happen, the more effectively the planning is done and the protocols are set in place,” Higgins said. “It puts the call out to everyone putting this together to train well, to do it right.”

Murphy will present a proposal on school reopening to the school board’s Instructional Committee on March 16. The full board will discuss it at the April monthly meeting, and make a decision whether to plan on a May 3 reopening.

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