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State Board of Education moves to prevent schools from remote classes amid COVID crunch

Daniela Allee / NHPR
Richmond Middle School in Hanover. Under new rules approved by the state Board of Education, New Hampshire schools would be barred from going to remote classes in response to COVID-19 outbreaks among students and teachers.

The New Hampshire state Board of Education advanced a set of rules Thursday that would effectively ban remote learning even when schools are dealing with COVID outbreaks or widespread COVID-related staffing shortage.

The new rules spell out when “distance education” counts towards the amount of instructional time that schools are required to offer each year. It allows distance education only during inclement weather or if a parent or guardian requests it for their child.

Shifts to remote learning last school year upended many students’ learning and families’ schedules. School leaders say closing buildings and temporarily taking classes online is a last resort, but a necessary option. So far this academic year, only a few schools have gone remote temporarily because of COVID.

But New Hampshire schools say remaining open is a daily struggle right now, as the state is seeing almost daily record infection rates, and many students and teachers are under mandatory quarantine rules due to COVID exposure.

Before holiday break, districts were already seeing high case counts and struggling to find enough substitute teachers to cover staff out sick with COVID symptoms or in quarantine. School leaders say the post-holiday surge and arrival of a more infectious omicron variant has everyone on edge.

Districts in some parts of the country have temporarily closed school buildings in recent weeks. In other states, districts are prohibited from going remote.

The New Hampshire state Board of Education’s rules still need lawmakers' approval before going into effect. Until then, districts still have the final say on whether they close schools because of COVID concerns.

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

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