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Sununu Says All N.H. Schools Must Reopen Later This Month

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Sarah Gibson/NHPR
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School leaders in New Hampshire say they were caught off guard by Gov. Chris Sununu's order Thursday that all schools reopen fully, five days a week, by April 19th.

Sununu announced the plan at a press conference. 

"Reopening schools and getting kids back to school: a very passionate issue for a lot of individuals, a lot of parents," he said. "We just want to provide some clarity and assurances and transparency as we start to get kids into the classroom."

The new rule will allow students to continue opting for a fully remote option should they choose.

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Dr. Carl Ladd, director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, said school districts have been kept out of the state's planning process for executive orders.

"This came completely out of the blue. We were not informed, consulted, asked,"  Ladd said.

"The message that keeps getting sent is that teachers and administrators just want to keep working remotely, and they don't want to be back in school with kids, and that is furthest from the truth."

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NHPR's COVID & The Classroom is a reporting project looking at the effects of the pandemic on New Hampshire's students, parents, teachers, and schools.

Ladd said many districts are trying to figure out how to maintain social distancing of three feet on buses, in classrooms, and during lunch. 

Other school leaders said that teachers will not be fully vaccinated by the date Sununu is ordering schools to reopen, though those who received their first doses in mid-March will be close.

Sununu says about sixty percent of school districts are already fully open. Others are in the process of planning a full return.

Prior to today, several large districts such as Concord and Manchester planned to shift from hybrid to fully in-person learning full in early May, citing April vacation as their time to reorganize buildings and prepare for increased density.

Sununu has been pushing schools back toward in-person operation, and away from remote learning, in recent months. He has cited significant federal aid available to school districts for reopening safely and the mental health toll on students learning remotely.

In February, Sununu signed an executive order mandating all districts to offer at least two days a week of in-person learning to students. In March, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker ordered all elementary schools in that state to reopen fully by April 5. In Maine, some schools remain in hybrid mode, and state officials have declined to order a full reopening.

This story is part of NHPR's COVID & The Classroom reporting project. Visit the project page here.

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