The Manchester School District is re-examining its plans to offer a hybrid model to kindergarten and first-grade students, citing a shortage of teachers willing and able to return to in-person teaching.
The state's largest school district is reviewing legal paperwork filed by staff who want to take a leave of absence or get an exemption from in-person teaching because of a disability or health condition.
Sue Hannan, the president of the Manchester Educators’ Association, says it’s not safe yet for anyone to return to school.
“The buildings are not ready. Not all of the cleaning staff have been trained on how to deep clean and have not been using the approved chemicals,” she wrote to NHPR.
Superintendent John Goldlhardt says Manchester's low infection numbers and new safety rules in buildings are sufficient to bring back small groups of students and teachers.
He warns that the lack of in-person teaching for younger students to build basic literacy and social skills could have long-term impacts.
“You think about a kid who got kindergarten part of year last year, and now goes to first grade and doesn't get much of a year,” he says. “What that school experience becomes later on – it has pretty big implications."
The district's reopening plans have raised concerns and questions for parents and teachers throughout the summer.
“You have a lot of sharing different narratives and different stories, and as much as you try to share the correct story over and over and over again, it doesn't mean that's the story they hear and believe,” Goldhardt says.
As the district braces for a potential year of remote learning, Goldhardt says fewer families are enrolling in kindergarten. That grade typically has a district-wide enrollment of 900-1,000. This year, it is less than 700.
And with 60 percent of its students considered low-income and 15 percent designated as English Language Learners, the district will face major challenges providing support to students at home.
Immigrant advocates say non-English-speaking families need more direct training from the school district to prepare for the year.
Shalimar Encarnacion, a school choice advocate and member of the local NAACP education committee, says many immigrants and resettled refugees who speak a language other than English are overwhelmed.
Even if they have laptops and are able to oversee their kids during the day, she says, many aspects of remote learning aren’t intuitive.
"Having access to the portal, having to know how to navigate the programs, how to hold kids accountable, being able to log in - it's a big process, and parents need hands-on training for that,” she says.
Officials with the Manchester School district hope to bring some of the higher-need English language learners into school buildings, even if most students remain remote until at least October.
The board is expected to review additional plans for reopening on Monday, Aug. 31.
COVID and The Classroom: NHPR wants to understand how this unusual school year is playing out across the state. Every few weeks, we'll ask you to answer a new question. The latest: How has going back to school been different for you this year? Give us a few examples here to help us tell the story.