New Hampshire's school re-opening guidelines: A breakdown

Monitor staff
Published: 7/15/2020 4:49:11 PM

New Hampshire released its set of reopening guidelines for school districts this week, providing some preliminary answers to long-sought questions from parents and staff.

But one theme rings through the entire 54-page plan: It’s voluntary. Few of the guidelines are non-negotiable; most are adaptable and can be expanded upon or disregarded by the district reopening.

“This guide is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ document,” it states at the beginning. “Rather, it recognizes the varied local context of each school district and acknowledges that many districts may develop their own operational guidelines utilizing this document as the base of minimum requirements.”

Given the bottom-up reopening approach, each family’s school district will likely approach the reopening differently. But the guidelines provide a template for what might happen this fall.

Here are some of the key suggestions.

Getting to school

Where possible, the state’s reopening guidance encourages parents to drive their children to school or carpool with others.

For families at bus stops, the guidance recommends six feet of distance between people.

“Efforts should be made to space students on a bus so they are seated at a maximum distance from others,” the guidelines say, adding that siblings can sit together.

Students waiting outside of school should wait separately and not linger together, the document states.

COVID-19 screening

The state guidelines ask school districts to develop a screening process for students, staff and visitors to school grounds, which would identify any symptoms before allowing the person into the building.

Under the recommendations, staff and visitors would be screened on school grounds, and students would be screened at home with their parents. Both approaches would involve a checklist that would be sent home to parents to use daily.

Schools could also explore setting up a second screening process of kids when they arrive at school or in their first classroom, the guidelines say.

Those who have new symptoms or recent contact with someone who does should be barred from getting on buses and entering schools, according to the guidance document.

Mask use

Nowhere do the Department of Education’s school reopening guidelines require masks be worn in schools, by teachers or students. But the policy leaves open the option for districts to create mandates of their own.

The guidelines detail differing recommendations for students and teachers. The state says students “should” wear cloth masks “when social distancing cannot be maintained,” but not necessarily all the time.

The district should set a mask-wearing policy for those with underlying health conditions or disabilities, the guidelines state. And the district should also “consider how to address” those students who refuse to wear masks.

Meanwhile, standards should be adjusted depending on the age and maturity level of the students in each class, the guidelines say.

Students should definitely wear masks when riding buses, entering buildings, moving through hallways and entering classrooms, the guidelines say. But “mask breaks” should also be considered through the day when students can be outside and spaced six feet apart.

Teachers, meanwhile, should consistently wear masks, according to the document. That allows them to be “effective modeling exemplars” for students, the state says.

But while teachers are “strongly encouraged” to wear masks, they are not required to.

Parents dropping off students – as well as all visitors to schools – should wear masks, too, although the guidelines are inconsistent with whether that is mandated by the state or not.

Schools should also keep a stockpile of personal protective equipment, including disposable surgical masks and gloves, the guidelines state. But they also ask districts to purchase the masks themselves, where “commercially available.”

Class space

The state guidelines give flexible advice on class space. At a minimum, the guidelines say, students should be spaced three feet away from each other. If possible, there should be six feet of space. And all desks should face the same direction.

The spacing guidance applies to classroom activities as well – those should be set up to ensure at least three feet of distance as well.

And individual classes are discouraged from mixing.

Sanitation

Frequent handwashing should be emphasized for all students, the guidelines say. Hand sanitizer bottles should be available in all classrooms.

But the recommendations also urge districts to develop cleaning protocols that adhere to broader guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means that items that are frequently used should be frequently cleaned, and the schools should develop a cleaning schedule to make it happen, the guidance says.

The recommendations also suggest that schools look at ventilation upgrades, but the state is not providing addition funding to provide for them.

What happens if a case is identified

Aside from the morning screenings, the reopening guidance instructs teachers and staff to be mindful of symptoms among students while at school

Students who do show symptoms should be masked, removed from the classroom and sent home on nonpublic transportation, the document adds.

Additionally, schools are encouraged to have an isolation room on hand to hold children who are sick or showing symptoms until they can be safely sent home.

The guidelines say each school district should have a “clearly articulated” plan that includes how it will work with the Department of Health and Human Services if a case emerges.

The school is encouraged to communicate with the Division of Public Health Service if it has a case, where guidance will be given based on that school’s unique circumstances.

State public health officials may also conduct contact tracing efforts it cases emerge, and require quarantine for students and staff that that applies to.

Monitoring an evolving virus

As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, New Hampshire’s reopening guidelines stress flexibility from districts. That means creating a specific COVID-19 leadership team to monitor national and statewide developments with the virus and change policy.

The document recommends that the district appoint a coordinator whose job is to stay on top of health developments.

“A safe return to school in September 2020 is the primary goal, with accommodations for individuals, students and educators, who due to underlying health concerns are not able to return to in person learning,” the document states. “This guidance is dynamic and as circumstances and data change, it may require updating.”


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