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N.H. Schools Get Creative As Order To Open At Least Two Days Per Week Goes Into Effect

Photos courtesy the LEAF School

Governor Chris Sununu's executive order requiring schools to open for in-person learning at least two days a week goes into effect on Monday.

With most districts already open two to five days a week, the order has made a difference for only a handful of mostly charter schools and a few traditional public schools that had stayed remote because of concerns about COVID safety.

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One of those is the LEAF School in Alstead, where concerns about the charter school's ability to implement COVID mitigation measures have kept it largely remote since Thanksgiving. Staff say the building – a former machine shop – can’t accommodate even half of the 80-member student body safely.

They were waiting for warmer weather in April to open all the windows, resurrect their outdoor classrooms, expand classes to a nearby barn, and reopen with a hybrid model.

But with the state’s new requirement for in-person learning, the school got creative. For the next three weeks, students will cycle through the building and spend much of their time in the community and outdoors, focusing on a single project.

Hannah LaBarre, a science and outdoor skills teachers at LEAF, is leading a “Sugarbush Science Intensive,” complete with hands-on maple sugaring once the sap starts running.

LaBarre says preparing to reopen has been stressful but this is par for the course.

Photos courtesy the LEAF School

“The school being very young and very small and creating itself as we go has enabled us to be pretty nimble, expect chaos and be flexible,” she says. “We have some gifts in the challenges.”

Schools now open are still offering remote options for families. That’s the case at the Academy for Science and Design, the state’s largest charter high school, in Nashua.

ASD had been bringing students back to campus for special services, labs, and other in-person programs but were waiting for an overhaul of the HVAC system to reopen in a hybrid model this month.

Director Jenn Sava accelerated their hybrid reopening by a week to comply with Sununu’s order.

She says about 30 percent of families have opted to stay home, but they’re allowed to switch to the hybrid model any week.

“No one has to declare or commit because it’s such a fluid situation, in terms of people’s comfort level and their health and safety,” she says.

Under the governor's order, schools can go remote because of COVID infection or staffing shortages, but they have to get permission from the state to do for more than two days.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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