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N.H. Districts Begin Adopting Reopening Plans; Manchester Mandates Masks For All Students

File Photo, NHPR

A week after Gov. Chris Sununu issued statewide school reopening guidelines, local school boards are fielding safety concerns from teachers and parents as they consider how to reopen amid the pandemic.

Sununu has described his guidance as “flexible,” leaving nearly all decisions on health and safety rules to local boards.

Monday night, school boards across the state met to get recommendations from their superintendents. Exeter is proposing reopening entirely, with a remote option for families. Bedford is moving forward with a hybrid plan: a mix of remote and in-person instruction. Masks are recommended for elementary school students and required for high school students.

As for the state's largest school district, Manchester is also considering a hybrid model, with different groups of students in class two days a week, and Wednesday set aside for deep cleaning day. Administrators there anticipate spending between $2 million and $3 million to reopen safely during the pandemic.

"To return with both the confidence and the care - it's not cheap," said Superintendent John Goldhardt, pointing to additional costs of busing, personal protective gear, updates to buildings' HVAC systems, and sanitation.

But even with improved cleaning, the local teachers' union says it's not safe to return, and is pushing for the school year to start fully remote.

At Monday’s meeting, Manchester School Board Vice Chair Leslie Want proposed requirements for masks and 6-foot social distancing for all city students and teachers.

“If any board has the responsibility to take the most conservative approach here, for safety for our students and our staff, it would be here in Manchester, where we have a higher number of cases,” Want said.

The board approved that motion, but did not decide on a final plan for reopening. It will decide on that on August 10th.

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