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New rules bar schools in N.H. from entering mandatory remote learning for COVID-19

Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules on Friday, Feb. 18
Ethan DeWitt/New Hampshire Bulletin
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New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut (right) addresses lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules on Friday, Feb. 18.

New Hampshire schools are no longer able to enter mandatory remote learning as a result of COVID-19 infections, after lawmakers and State Board of Education members passed a rule paring back their emergency abilities Friday.

In a unanimous, bipartisan vote, the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules voted to pass the new rule. Members of the State Board of Education also voted, 5-0, to approve the rule during a special meeting later that day.

The vote changes the Department of Education’s administrative rules to specify that schools may implement remote instruction only when inclement weather makes it unsafe to transport students to or from in-person instruction, or when parents request it on an individual basis.

The change does not prevent a public school from closing if high numbers of students or staff contract COVID-19. But under the new rule, if a school were to close, administrators would need to schedule equivalent instructional days at the end of the school year. And if the school closed because of COVID-19, parents would need to opt in to remote learning for their children.

Friday’s votes cleared the last hurdles for the rules, which have been in development since summer. The rules are now in effect for all schools.

School administrators and teachers unions have pushed back at the rule, arguing it deprives schools of a key teaching alternative that allows administrators to take safety measures during surges of coronavirus infections.

But members of the State Board of Education and Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut have said that families should not be forced to engage in remote learning, and have presented the rule as a compromise allowing schools to close and parents to request remote learning.

“The biggest point to understand is that schools and districts have the ability to close the school for health and safety reasons,” Drew Cline, chairman of the State Board of Education, said. “That does not change at all. What this does is it says if they close for health and safety reasons, they may offer remote instruction if the parents request it. If the parents don’t request it, then they just tack on another in-person day at the end of the year.”

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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