A group of parents in Nashua is looking to remove multiple members of the city's Board of Education, citing frustrations with the district's decision to forgo in-person learning for most students.
Students with special needs and those in grades K-2 have been given the option of a hybrid learning model, but the majority of students have been fully remote since April. Board members say community transmission of the virus in Nashua remains too high to send students back at this time.
Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Heather Raymond, president of the board.
Rick Ganley: The majority of board members, including yourself, say it's not safe to return to in-person learning yet in Nashua. You're dealing with pressure from all directions, I know, from parents and teachers. But there's also some political pressure here. Gov. Sununu has been calling for all schools to return to in-person learning for some time. And at a recent press conference, he actually doubled down. He said students should be in school even if teachers are not vaccinated yet. How did you react to hearing that?
Heather Raymond: I watched that. I think about five people texted me to turn on my television right then. I don't agree with him. One thing that concerned me about Gov. Sununu's press conference was the way that he talked about, you know, that we are going to have transmission in schools, and that there's a cluster and you just shut down for two weeks and then you come back. And he was very relaxed about that idea, and I think other school districts perhaps have been.
I worry about our particular demographics here in Nashua. We have a lot of multi-generational households. We have people living in apartment buildings and other situations where people are close together. And I worry about that chain of dominoes falling in our community. And our responsibility, based on our charter, is to the public health first.
Rick Ganley: You're saying Nashua's education charter specifically mentions public health?
Heather Raymond: It does. It does. Believe it or not, the charter is very specific where it says the Board of Education shall see to the public health, safety and welfare of students. In my mind, that says that our primary focus needs to be on health and safety. And the fact that it said public health makes me think that we're supposed to be thinking broader than just our students themselves. It's a unique position. I don't know of any other charter in the state that is written in that way.
Rick Ganley: Well, even though some parents in Nashua, I'm sure, do agree with the position that the board has taken, there are many, of course, who don't. And they want to recall multiple board members. There's a state statute in place that prohibits them from doing so. They're looking to find candidates now, I know, to run against those that are up for election in November. What do you make of that backlash from parents?
Heather Raymond: I understand the frustration that people are feeling. I do. I understand their frustration completely. This is extraordinarily difficult. It's an extraordinarily difficult time. There are students who are struggling. There are families who are struggling. Having to figure out child care in a pandemic is almost a Herculean task, because there aren't all that many options out there.
I guess for me, I respect their right to run. I don't know how many of the four of us who are up are planning on running again. None of us are inherently political creatures. We ran because we wanted to help, and I assume that these people that they're trying to get are running because they want to help. They just have a different view of how that ought to be done. And that's okay. That's healthy in a society to have different views.
I think where it becomes problematic is when we get to the point where people are butting heads and yelling at each other instead of trying to come together to come up with creative solutions. I was really encouraged to see that the Nashua Parent Voice worked with the teachers union to write a letter to the governor about vaccinating teachers. I thought that was a great step towards working together to come up with some creative ideas.
Rick Ganley: You mentioned child care being extraordinarily hard, obviously. You think about some of these families having their kids out of school since last April. It's not just the child care component, though. Parents are concerned about the number of hours that students are able to engage with teachers, with remote instruction, compared to in-person learning. Can you address that? Is remote learning working for the majority of students in Nashua?
Heather Raymond: I think it is. I think remote learning is working for for many, many students. I too, share their concerns about academics. I was just speaking with the superintendent and the assistant superintendents about this last week, that we need to be looking at our academics. And we need to find out if there are deficits, where are the deficits, how are we going to address these? How are we going to prepare our students for the fall? It's interesting because there's actually fewer hours of face-to-face instruction under a hybrid plan than there are under our current remote system.
Rick Ganley: How so? How can that be?
Heather Raymond: Because the hybrid plan is only two days a week. So you've got two cohorts and they're each going half time. So students are actually not receiving as much face-to-face time as they are when they have their teacher right in front of them. They get the full hour at home now for each class. Once they go back into hybrid, there's transitional time that doesn't happen as much in remote. And we have all of the office hours that teachers are utilizing for small group projects, one-on-one extra help or just even instruction. So there's more of that available now than there is in our hybrid plan.
Rick Ganley: You're not only a board member, but you're also a parent within the district. How has your family been handling all of this?
Heather Raymond: It hasn't been easy, but it has been manageable for our family. But I try not to take what works just for me and then assume or extrapolate that to what will work for the rest of the community, because it's not fair. So when I'm sitting at the board, I have my board member hat on and my mother hat off, and I try to only look at the data that's in front of me.
Rick Ganley: Is that really something you can do, though?
Heather Raymond: Yes, I think so. And the reason I think so is because before I did this, I was a social worker for DCYF, and I became accustomed to what's right for my family, isn't necessarily right for every family, obviously. So I've gotten really good at looking at what's in front of me and making a determination based on that, not based on my own personal feelings.