As COVID comes back, remote options absent for quarantined students

  • Tim Chevalier looks out of the bedroom where he has been quarantining as his family plays outside. They include his wife, Codie, holding their youngest child Avigail, 3, as Sonya, 7, Westin, 12, and Rohan, 10, play outside the family home in Loudon. It was the first day that Tim’s quarantine is over since he got COVID-19 on Sept. 7. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Codie Chevalier takes her youngest child, Avigail, 3, from oldest son, Westin, 12, as her husband Tim peers out of the bedroom window where he has been quarantining since Sept. 7. The family is awaiting test results to determine if the children can return to school. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Codie Chevalier outside the family home with daughter Sonya, 7, and son Westin, 12, as her husband Tim peers out of his quarantine bedroom where he has been since testing positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 7. The family is awaiting test results for the children to see if they can go back to school. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Codie Chevalier lifts up her youngest child, Avigail, 3, as Sonya, 7, Westin, 12, grandmother Linda, and Rohan, 10, interact with Tim Chevalier as he peers out of the master bedroom where he has been quarantining since testing positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 7. The kids are waiting final testing results to see when they can go back to school. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Codie Chevalier calls this her “Megafort” in the family living room where she and her kids have been sleeping while her husband, Tim, has been quarantining in their master bedroom while recovering from COVID-19. Courtesy of Codie Chevalier

  • A flowchart from the NH Department of Health and Human Services shows the recommended quarantine protocol schools can follow when a student has symptoms or has a household contact with COVID-19. New Hampshire DHHS—Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 9/16/2021 5:19:04 PM

When Codie Chevalier’s husband Tim tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 7, she knew she had to pull their three oldest kids out of school. What she didn’t realize when she was picking the kids up mid-day from Merrimack Valley Middle School and Loudon Elementary is that meant they would receive almost no instruction for the next 10 days – or longer, if one of them became infected.

As New Hampshire schools have returned for in-person learning five days a week this fall, the stat Department of Education is not requiring that remote learning be offered. Many Concord-area school districts are in-person only, but the continued spread of COVID-19 in the region means kids with a positive case in the household are having to quarantine at home for 10 days or sometimes more, out of the classroom and away from their teachers and peers.

“After last year when there was remote instruction and it was available, finding out there is no remote option for these kids, it’s really disappointing,” Chevalier said. “My middle schooler is fine, he did remote learning all last year, his teachers just popped his assignments into Google classroom. But the rest of my kids need interaction with a teacher. I’m concerned for other parents who may not realize that there is no remote option for a kid who is required to quarantine.”

The School and Childcare Toolkit document released by New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Aug. 11 contains the guidance that most districts, including Merrimack Valley and Concord, are following for quarantining this year. When an unvaccinated student is exposed to COVID-19 through someone in their household, they must quarantine for a minimum of 10 days after exposure and test negative before returning to school. Vaccinated students can return to school with a mask even if they have been exposed.

In the Merrimack Valley School District, which is operating fully in-person, students who are quarantining can’t attend class remotely but instead do assignments at home that are posted on Google Classroom or sent home in a packet. Superintendent Mark MacLean said that at the middle and high school levels there are after-school programs where students can connect remotely with their teachers at the end of the day to ask questions, and they can also reach out by email. 

 “We’re really treating it a little bit like we did pre-pandemic, in that if there is a long-term absence it is incumbent on the teacher and parent to change the level of communication,” MacLean said. “The teacher is sending work home, connecting with the parent to make sure kids have access to materials and providing support so students can remote in and talk to teachers, or make teachers available after school so students can send emails.”

MacLean said very few Merrimack Valley students have had to quarantine so far this year, and that the at-home work plan has been handled successfully so far on a case-by-case basis. If a large portion of the student population were to end up in quarantine, the district will take steps to make sure students don’t miss out on too much learning, he said.

Chevalier says she feels lucky to have enough space for isolating within the house, which has decreased the kids’ quarantine time by half. At home, Tim has been isolating in the master bedroom and taking meals in his room. He climbs out the window when he wants to go for a walk. She and the kids are sleeping in a makeshift “mega-fort” in the living room and when they want to visit, they talk to him from the other side of the screen.

If they weren’t able to stay separate, Chevalier said the kids would have had to wait 10 days for their dad to test negative, then spend an additional 10 days in quarantine for themselves – a total of 20 days away from school – to make sure they are not infected.

“Let's say nobody can isolate and they all caught it, they can be out for 10 days times the number of students in the family,” Chevalier said. In her case, with a total of four children and three adults sharing a household, a worst-case scenario of successive contagion could have the kids out of school for 70 days. 

In both Merrimack Valley and Concord school districts, quarantining students are given an excused absence, meaning it is not considered truancy. 

Concord has a similar system to Merrimack Valley. According to interim superintendent Kathleen Murphy, there weren’t enough interested students to put the resources into offering remote learning. Instead, Concord teachers make a plan for quarantining students, send out homework packets and Chromebooks so students can access Google Classroom, depending on the age level. When teachers need to quarantine, the district assigns a substitute. 

“The numbers were so small in terms of the families who wanted remote, we really couldn’t do it,” Murphy said.

If the Chevalier kids all test negative this week, they will be able to return to school either mid-day Friday or on Monday. This week Codie Chevalier has been helping her elementary-age kids with their schoolwork, but noted that many parents aren’t able to do that for various reasons. She said working with the schools and the teachers has been positive and helpful, but she still wishes there was a remote option for the kids to be in class.

“I just think it’s short-sighted,” Chevalier said. “I’m worried for students, I’m worried for parents who are going to be like, ‘what am I supposed to do with my kid?’”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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