What Will Reopening Schools Look Like? | New Hampshire Public Radio

What Will Reopening Schools Look Like?

Jul 17, 2020

Credit Pickpik

What will school look like this fall? The state released its school reopening guidelines last week, which leave a lot of decisions up to individual districts. We chat about how parents, teachers, and administrators are feeling about possibly returning to school in September. 

Air date: Monday, July 20, 2020. 

GUESTS:

This show was produced by fellow Jane Vaughan. 

Resources

Website for the Department of Education's School Transition Reopening and Redesign Task Force, which includes links to stakeholder surveys: https://www.education.nh.gov/who-we-are/commissioner/school-transition-reopening-redesign-taskforce

Transcript

  This is a computer generated transcript and may contain errors. 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy, and this is The Exchange. The state released its school reopening guidelines last week. And here's the bottom line. The details are up to the individual districts. So now in every district across New Hampshire, the discussion and debate are swirling. Some are adamant that it's time to return. Others are nervous and fear the new guidelines don't contain nearly enough safety protocols. Today on The Exchange, planning for school this fall. Exchange listeners, we really want to hear from you. What are your hopes and your concerns about returning to school, whether you're a parent, an educator or a student? We're gonna start out by talking with New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut. Also, Megan Tuttle, president of the state affiliate of the National Education Association. And Ashley Conley, director of infection prevention at Catholic Medical Center. Welcome, everybody. And to set the stage, I want to share a response to our survey at NHPR.org from Stefanie in Plaistow, who says, I'm worried about school in the fall. My very high risk dad lives in the household and I worry about sending the kids back, exposing him. On the same note, I worry that not sending them back will have major repercussions on their mental health. And I worry about finances should they not go back and require parent led learning. And I'm so glad that Stephanie wrote, all of you, because her comments to me seem to reflect all the concerns that Granite Staters have right now. The health of vulnerable loved ones, the academic and mental health of kids, concerned about the impact of homeschooling on working parents. And Commissioner Edelblut. Let's start with you. What are you hearing from Granite Staters at this very difficult time of thinking about fall?

Commissioner Edelblut:
So thank you for letting me join you and our fellow guests there as well. Thanks for joining into this important conversation really that we're having. The feedback that I'm getting and really I'll kind of look at it at two different levels are similar feedback that you just shared with me. So you've got parents that are at home who are thinking through what is this going to look like for my child? But one of the things in that feedback that I've observed is it depends a little bit about an individual's personal circumstances and in some cases, the geography. You know, if you're a parent that lives up in the north country where they have had very light impact associated with COVID, you have one particular perspective. But then if you happen to be from Nashua, I spoke with the Nashville superintendent this morning or you're in Salem or Gary or some of the other folks or places that have had, you know, more occurrences of COVID. You're looking at this a little bit more carefully. And so that is really part of the design of the guidance. So it is in terms of creating flexibility as a flexible framework, but it includes an enormous amount of detail about how schools might open depending upon the various circumstances that they're trying to both respond to, as well as accomodate, and when I talk about accommodate, whether it's for the teachers that they're trying to accommodate or their students that they are trying to accommodate through this process, always while keeping really the health and safety of the community in the forefront in that process.

Laura Knoy:
And Commission Edelblut, given the variations within families and within districts and among districts around the state, as you described, why have guidelines at all? Why not just leave it up to the districts to make these decisions, given these variations?

Commissioner Edelblut:
Well, so one of the reasons we absolutely need the guidelines is that we want to support our school leaders in that process of how do they make the decisions for their local communities. And so what we did really in that process from the STRRT committee is we brought together a really broad cross-section of individuals from across the state. Educators, administrators, health professionals, parents, counselors, transportation companies, all different folks who worked to try and coalesce some information and provide really some good perspective and input for those school leaders who have to make those decisions. We also conducted a survey and received over fifty six thousand responses to that survey, including over 11000 educators, over 40 thousand parents in that process. And so we have coalesced that information as well, made that transparent and publicly available. So it's all data points and information that our local school leaders have at their fingertips so that they can then craft a plan that makes sense and is responsive to the needs in their community.

Laura Knoy:
And Megan, I want to bring you into this. How are you hearing from teachers and other school staff now? What are you hearing and how are they feeling at this, you know, again, very difficult time?

Megan Tuttle:
Thank you again for having me on. I'm hearing things a little bit similar, but a little bit different. Obviously, we know the state is varied in geography and and what's going on in all the different regions of the state. But what I'm hearing from my educators is they're scared. They're fearful about going back into the classroom for themselves, for their families. They're scared for the children. And I'm hearing from students as well who are, you know, looking at it that the administrators are doing their job and they're putting together plans. But any decisions that they make is going to directly impact them for the next one hundred and eighty or so days. The educators are fearful. They're telling me that they are honestly just scared to go back into the classroom. There's so many variables on what could happen health wise, their own families, whether they're immunocompromised, their families are or their children are. And it's just they are really scared to go back into the classroom at this point for lots of valid reasons.

Laura Knoy:
Beyond the end of this pandemic, which is no time soon, and beyond a vaccine, which again, sadly, is no time soon. Megan, what do educators want to make them feel safer going back into that classroom?

Megan Tuttle:
Ideally, it would be over. But we know that's not happening right now. They're asking me to have masks mandated. They know that, you know, it's been proven that wearing a mask is going to help the spread of this, at least somewhat. And the reality of it is that even though different geographic areas have, you know, have had different impacts, not all teachers or educators live in the same community where they work. And so if they have kids in one community and they're working in another one. Those could be, you know, different impacted communities. And they're worried about bringing things home. So they want masks mandated in all of the schools for everyone. They want the HVAC systems to be upgraded, to be maintained. When I was teaching, I would be in my classroom in the fall and in the spring, and sometimes that would get up to ninety three degrees and that's just stifling even when it's just a normal day. But not having a good air quality that we need in the classrooms is just adding to that. And so those are two things that they keep talking to me about, that we need upgraded and maintained HVAC systems. We need masks to be worn. You know, just because they're not all living in the same community as where they're going to school or teaching.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Ashley, this is where your expertise in infectious disease comes in. So what coronavirus red flags come up, Ashley, when you're talking about large numbers of people indoors for long periods of time?

Ashley Conley:
Yes, so I think a couple things. You know, it's not one thing that's going to really help fix and solve that preventing of transmission. You know, at schools in the classrooms, I think it's a couple different things. It's the hand hygiene, the wearing masks, the cleaning and disinfecting. All those pieces are really important. You're talking about opening up schools or businesses or even just maintaining things in the hospital. And I think what each school decides to do, depending on where they're located and what populations they have, it may vary a bit. But it's not just one thing that's really going to help in those types of settings, it's kind of a whole group of prevention measures that you see in the guidelines and that really need to be implemented.

Laura Knoy:
I think the state public health doctor described it last week as sort of Swiss cheese, meaning that each piece of the cheese may have a hole in it. But when you layer them on altogether, you get, you know, a relatively whole piece of cheese. How would you describe it, Ashley, these sort of different pieces working together to reduce the transmission of this disease?

Ashley Conley:
Yes, that's a great way to look at it. And I think you need a slice of Swiss cheese maybe for each age demographic, too. So what you might choose to implement for younger kids in a school setting might look a little different than what you choose for older teenagers. And when you think about kids and transmission, you know, they like their hands and their mouth a lot, you know, up their nose. So what can we do to really mitigate that? So hand washing is going to be really big with those kids. They may not be able to wear a mask all the time because of their age group. But cleaning, disinfecting, hand hygiene is going to be important for those kids. When you get a little bit older, you know, wearing masks is more of an option for them. They're more able to wear that mask and not touch their nose and mouth and obviously hand hygiene. And it's important for them too. But you have to look at each age group and then the school as a whole and see what are all the things in different places, maybe you know mandatory hand hygiene or hand sanitizer before meals, how we sit in the cafeteria or sitting in the classroom for meals. Each one of those has to be taken and really looked at to see how can we mitigate risk as much as possible.

Laura Knoy:
Well, that's interesting, Ashley. So you're touching on something that I've been reading about just recently, and that is that different age groups and a lot of people are studying this now, given, you know, all the talk about schools, different age groups of kids may transmit this virus differently, Ashley.Is that what you're saying?

Ashley Conley:
Yeah, it just may be how, you know, are they most likely so for adults, that might be more if they're close together, it's more that respiratory, you know, if they cough, they sneeze more that respiratory piece. But then for little kids, they like to do a lot with their hands. So disinfecting all those common touch surfaces and areas might be, you know, a big part of it. So those are important. That's why it's nice to be flexible and have the ability to pull in different recommendations for different types of schools or populations or age groups.

Laura Knoy:
I want to read an email from Deb and ask you, Commissioner Edelblut, what you think. Deb says, after hearing the governor say that masks were not mandatory for students and three feet of social distancing was OK. It made me rethink my feelings about schools reopening. Also, given the fact that we haven't even gone to the first phase of the pandemic and being told this fall and winter will be the worst health crisis in history. Should such loose guidelines be OK for schools? Should schools be reopening? Deb says, I have grandchildren living with me. They could bring it home and their grandfather, who both have underlying health issues. I think the guidelines need to be stricter. Can you talk about the mask issue, please? Commissioner Edelblut, this has gotten a lot of attention, especially since the country's major retailers just in recent weeks have said, you know, we're going to start requiring people to do this. Walmart, Target and so forth. Why is there no mask requirement in these guidelines, Commissioner?

Commissioner Edelblut:
So that is a great question. And I think one that we spent a lot of time thinking through and talking about. As was pointed out already, mask compliance is going to look different for different groups of children. We know, particularly the smaller, the littles I like to call them. They're going to have a very hard time with masks. And in fact, some of the evidence even shows that because of the difficulty that they have wearing a mask, they may actually increase their risk because they tend to play with or adjust the mask regularly. So they're in a constant state of putting their hands up to their face. And those little hands then, as was also pointed out, end up in a variety of different places. In terms of as the students get older and the ability to accommodate those mask gets better, we think that that may be appropriate for some districts to consider when they look at the rate of infection in their particular communities and how that will be implemented, how that will be put in place. Again, trying to find ways to protect the health and safety of really our educators as well as our students. And then really more of this Swiss cheese option is one of the things that the guidance is very clear around is the importance of creating accommodations and other pathways. So in particular, you pointed out in that letter, somebody who has, you know, immune compromised, I believe it was, or they have some underlying health risks. So we want to try and create an opportunity for that individual to be able to continue to engage in their education safely. And so we have to look for ways to build those accommodations through hybrid models or remote models for certain individuals or certain cohorts to be able to work through there. It's really interesting. And Laura, you pointed out there is and again, we have an emerging situation here. So we've put out guidance, but we know that the circumstances and conditions on the ground are continuing to change. New Hampshire has been blessed, right? We have very few cases. I was on a call this morning with Dr. Chan. We have zero hospitalizations, zero deaths reported today. So we're doing really well. It doesn't mean that the circumstances can't change. But we do have a certain set of circumstances on the ground right now that we can plan for. But in that planning, what we've asked everybody to do is to build really nimble planning so that in the event that we need to find ourselves in a circumstance of needing to respond, we have the capability of responding and responding well to continue to protect the health and safety of our community.

Laura Knoy:
You know, this is an important point, accommodating people like our emailer who have, you know, people, vulnerable family members at home. And as you said, Commissioner, there are students who have, you know, immunocompromised situations as well, and teachers who have maybe underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable. Megan Tuttle, to you first. I don't even know how to imagine how to accommodate everybody. You know, the kids and teachers who are desperate to be back in the classroom, who need that interaction, who need that socialization, but also those people like Deb who have real health concerns. Is it possible to design a system, Megan, that accommodates everybody?

Megan Tuttle:
I think it is. And that's where I think the flexibility piece is crucial when it comes to designing what exactly is going to work for your district in terms of instruction models. So looking at a hybrid model, looking at, you know, things like that at the local level, that's great for the flexibility. But, you know, there's still other problems here. I have seen a lot of plans that have been coming out and they are polling educators to say, would you like to do, you know, remote instruction from home or feel better coming into the school? What about parents? So those things are coming out and I think it is going to, you know, have that flexibility at the local level. I just want to comment on something, though. You know, we have done, I shouldn't say we, the state has done a great job at keeping where, you know, the levels low and we were able to be in a really good space, a really good spot in terms of not having many cases compared to the nation, but not requiring and not mandating certain things in the schools and just having it as an all should could bring us right back into, you know, undo everything that we've done.You know, we know that colds in schools spread like wildfire. And this is so much more than just a cold. But, you know, looking locally, having that flexibility at the local level to design a curriculum and design the instruction model, that's where it's going to help.

Laura Knoy:
Everybody's so different, Megan. But what's your sense of what teachers would feel most comfortable with right now, this hybrid model that a lot of states are looking at or just saying it's too dangerous, the safeguards are not in place. Let's just go back to remote learning, as we did in the spring. What do you think would be, what do you think is the overall desire of teachers right now?

Megan Tuttle:
From what I'm hearing from my members, it's to wait. They're really concerned about going back in six weeks. The other piece that, you know, hasn't really been touched upon is Labor Day's coming up. And what's going to happen two weeks after Labor Day holiday? There are a lot of schools, about 80 percent in New Hampshire, I think that go back before Labor Day and then others go back after. But the general feeling that I'm hearing from my members is they think it's too soon to go back and they do want to wait. It's important to get back at some point, but they feel like they're an experiment at this point, going back this early without having, you know, a lot of stricter guidelines. It's just that, well, the district can figure it out. And you know what? We'll work on it as we go. And that mentality is not making them feel comfortable or safe at all.

Laura Knoy:
We've got two e-mails here from people who are nervous to come back either full time or in a hybrid model. Scott says, I'm a teacher at both the middle and high school levels. I want so much, in all caps from Scott, to be back in the classroom. But reopening and reopening safely are two different things. I suspect that we will, as a state, predominantly reopen with a hybrid model. I also suspect that very quickly after we will decide that being open is not safe and quickly pivot back to remote learning. Scott says caution indicates that we should not reopen with a hybrid model until we are far more certain that we can do so safely. Jennifer also says, I do not understand offering school districts the option to open buildings for in-person instruction. We closed schools in order to prevent large groups gathering indoors in poorly ventilated areas for a long time. The evidence, Jennifer says, is clear that transmission of the virus is optimal in indoor situations, with large gatherings for long periods of time. Jennifer says, Why are we willing to risk our students, families and staff's lives? And Ashley, to you again. You've talked a lot about transmission. Just remind us what we're told over and over again about staying indoors with lots of people for long periods of time and how to mitigate the risks involved in that.

Ashley Conley:
Yeah. So they kind of always talk about the Cs, you know, crowded spaces, you know, lots of people. But the ability to hopefully minimize the number of people in a classroom, distancing where we can, wearing masks when appropriate. You know, with the right age groups being able to help prevent transmission that way. The cleaning, disinfecting, the hand hygiene, all those things together are what we do and, you know, I think you've seen this in all areas, whether it's hospitals or other sectors that have opened up the last couple months where we're all implementing those key measures. And another big one, too, is about keeping whether it's staff or children that are starting to show symptoms home is so important. So I think traditionally you hear a lot of parents sending their kids to school if they have just a sniffle. And that's not going to be OK with the situation that front. So if there's a little sniffle, guess what, those kids or the staff members going to have to stay home. So it's another piece, too, as you keep them away and do that screening upon entry or the temperature checks as a stopgap to make sure people that are coming in, you know, are feeling healthy that day, haven't been exposed to somebody else that has COVID-19. So all those layers together, just as many of us, lots of different sectors have had to do, helps reduce as much risk as possible. There's always gonna be some risk. Right. There's risk with everything, going to the grocery store. You're going to the beach or the lake. There's risk everywhere, but it's all about mitigation, mitigating as much as possible. And then quickly responding, if you do see something start to happen in a setting, which is things we've all learned over the last couple months.

Laura Knoy:
I want to ask you, Ashley, about young people and how they experience this virus. And I just read something this morning that said there's a big difference between kids under 10 and over 10. But much has been made of the fact that young people do seem less susceptible to this virus. What does that mean? Ashley, does that just mean that if they get it, they're going to feel okay? Does it mean they're less likely to get it? Or does it mean that they are, you know, just less likely to become sick and they're walking around asymptomatic, possibly infecting others? It's kind of confusing.

Ashley Conley:
Right, it is confusing, I agree, and it's something we've all been learning the last couple months, I think across the board there is that group of people that are asymptomatic where they might have COVID, but they're not having any symptoms. And that's a challenging group because they don't know that they have it, which is where a lot of those risk mitigation strategies really has to come into play to prevent, you know, the spread. And as far as the age groups, I think that's still really new. You know, I've just started to see some of that come out. So I think we'll see more as time goes on. But, yeah, mitigating risk along the whole spectrum can really help with those asymptomatic or what we also call the pre-symptomatic, where an individual doesn't have symptoms yet, but they may develop symptoms. And if we can do all those, you know, hygiene, cleaning masks, it really helps lower that risk. And with kids, we haven't seen as much illness with the kids. That's not 100 percent across the board, though, right. So you're always going to have someone that's young and healthy possibly get severely ill. That happens with all infectious diseases, unfortunately. So that is something we can see and probably will see. But overall, they do seem to be less at risk for that severe disease.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Ashley, I know you have to go. I want to ask you one last question. This virus, as you know very well, has been incredibly hard to predict. Still, there has been talk for some time, Ashley, about a so-called false surge. What's the science or the data behind that frequently made prediction?

Ashley Conley:
So when you look at kind of the science of pandemics, you always look at what are the possible waves of a pandemic. And it really depends on the type of virus, how that virus acts. And it's hard to predict exactly what it will look like. But within the science of pandemics, you naturally do tend to have more than one of those surges. And we just don't know for sure what it looks like. But the important thing is, is that we can adapt and be flexible so that if New Hampshire does start to see an increase in cases, that we respond appropriately. And that's something that I know our state health department works on very closely and monitoring those numbers, looking to see where the clusters are happening around the state and then being able to make strategies to change when we need to.

Laura Knoy:
Ashley, thank you very much for your time this morning. We sure appreciate it.

Ashley Conley:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
That's Ashley Conley, director of infection prevention at Catholic Medical Center. Coming up, a lot more of your questions. Keep them coming in. And we'll continue with Megan Tuttle and Commissioner Edelblut. We'll also hear from the superintendent of Manchester schools. So keep it right here. This is The Exchange on NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, what back to school season might look like this year with the coronavirus pandemic not going away. And predictions of a fall surge. New Hampshire districts are right now making incredibly tough decisions about the upcoming academic year. With us right now, New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, also Megan Tuttle, president of NEA New Hampshire. And with us now is John Goldhardt, superintendent of the Manchester School District and Superintendent Goldhardt. It's good to have you. Thank you for being with us.

John Goldhardt:
Thanks for having me.

Laura Knoy:
How close are you to deciding what school might look like this fall in Manchester?

John Goldhardt:
Well, tonight at our Board of School Committee meeting, we will be making some preliminary recommendations to the board and getting feedback from our board on their feelings on that, and then also continuing more vetting with our community, including parents, teachers and students, to make final recommendations in August so that we can move forward with school.

Laura Knoy:
Sure. And do you have, again, recognizing everything is preliminary because everything is changing, do you have a start date right no, John?

John Goldhardt:
Right now, our start date is, I believe, September 2nd. If I'm not mistaken, got to get my years straight here, we start right after Labor Day. But that's still negotiable because of the commissioner giving us those flexible days that we will look at. The key for us in Manchester, for me, at least in recommending to the board, we need to have not only our employees, but our parents and our students need to have the confidence that they'll feel coming back. And then we have to have the care that both of those elements in place in order for it to work.

Laura Knoy:
What are you hearing from your community, your parents, your students, your teachers about returning in full or a hybrid model or just going back to remote like everybody did in the spring. What are you hearing from folks about that, John?

John Goldhardt:
Well, me personally, I'm getting about 50/50 in regards to my email box and my phone calls from folks, I'm getting about 50 percent of my emails are saying we shouldn't come back at all. And about 50 percent are coming in saying this is all just a regular flu. No big deal. And we should all come back. No problem. So you have to take all those with, you know, what they are and come up with what's best for the overall needs of our students and employees.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Commissioner Edelblut, based on what John says and what I've heard from other school officials, it does seem many districts are making three contingency plans, all in-person instruction, a hybrid model and all remote. It is incredibly complicated. Anybody in this situation try to make these plans has my sympathy. How do the guidelines that you guys put out last week, Commissioner, help district leaders do this incredibly complicated planning? Commissioner Edeblut, can you hear me? We must have had a problem with the commissioner's line. Commissioner Edelblut, can you hear me? All right, well, while we wait for the commissioner, we'll take a call. And we've got a caller on the line. Ian is joining us by phone. Hi, Ian. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi, Laura. Thank you for having me.

Laura Knoy:
Sure. Go ahead.

Caller:
So I'm a middle school science educator in New Hampshire and I've been a teacher in New Hampshire for a long time, and this is the first summer of where I've ever felt extremely nervous about returning to school. My district is working really hard to try to come up with a plan, and I'm confident in the leaders within my district. But I'm very nervous about kind of potentially returning to the building where we may or may not have 300 plus students. Some of whom may or may not be wearing masks and just the planning around the contingencies, are we there full time or are we there hybrid? Are we there or not at all? And the state kind of leaving it up to every district. And I think I get nervous about every district potentially handling all of these situations differently and how community members within the community I serve or the community next to us, how everybody reacts and says, well, my community is doing it this way, but mine's doing it this way. And all of that just leads to so many questions. That I wish the state would take a little bit more of a leadership role here. And I know we love our local control. I do, too. But I think if there ever was a time where we need to maybe step back from just a tiny bit to get some more direct leadership, that would be really great.

Laura Knoy:
That's interesting to hear you say that, Ian, because some leaders in local districts and teachers may say, great, now we can make decisions based on what works for us in our community. And I can imagine the other the flip situation. If the state said thou shalt do this and this, I can imagine districts saying, wait a minute. What's the one size fits all? So what do you think about that, Ian?

Caller:
Yeah, you know, I mean, I've been a teacher in New Hampshire for almost ten years, and I largely appreciate the flexibility from the state. I mean, I really do. We you know, we get guidance on our curriculum, get guidance on a few things. But as the governor said in a press conference a couple of days ago, you know, he wants teachers to be able to get back in the room and manage the way they think is best for their students and I love that about teaching in New Hampshire is that, you know, I can really tailor my approach to meet the needs of my students without feeling like the state is watching me. But what I've never done and none of my colleagues, none of us have ever done is do what we do best, manage the classroom and do what's best for our students, but also try to manage all of this during a pandemic, whereas like, OK, don't get too close to one another, but you've got to keep your mask up. So that adds a layer that I think I believe this state can help with that by just mandating just a couple of things just to help us out. And, you know, I'm not saying come in and tell everybody how to do it exactly the same way. But, boy, if we could just get a mask mandate, if nothing else, then that removes one complication. And I know it's difficult with littles. I get it. I have two of my own. But just because something is hard doesn't mean we shouldn't try to do it.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Ian, it's great to hear from you, and I want to hear from everybody on this, but John Goldhardt, you first, again as superintendent of the Manchester schools, what's your thinking right now, recognizing that decisions are not final yet, on a mask mandate for Manchester?

John Goldhardt:
Well, right now our recommendation will be to our board. And I know the majority of our board will be looking at requiring masks. As you know, Manchester's numbers are higher with COVID than other communities, and we have to take that into consideration. We also are not comfortable with just three feet with social distancing. And we have to remember that 50 percent of all of our adult staff are over the age of 50. And we can't forget that. And then just that recent study from South Korea that came out looking at Coronavirus that children tend to maintain and to be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19. So there are a lot of factors here that we cannot forget and we have to be truthful about with everybody when we're making these decisions. It's one of the hardest things I've ever done.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, I can imagine. And I saw that article just this morning about the major study from South Korea that showed that older kids, in fact, are transmitting this virus just as effectively as adults. It was pretty chilling as we look ahead to the fall. But here's another email that kind of makes the case for kids returning to those school buildings. Susan on Facebook writes, We also need to look at children who don't live in safe homes and don't have the support during the day to get an education. The flexibility allows parents that can support their children to stay at home. However, those children without the ideal home situation need to be in a supportive environment. Commissioner Edelblut, you first. But Megan, I want to hear from you, too. Commissioner, how are you factoring in these kids who we've heard about, you know, who come from abusive homes or whose parents have to work two jobs and just can not be there to educate them. I just wonder how those situations are factoring into your thinking. Not everybody has a parent who can work from home and, you know, help out.

Commissioner Edelblut:
I think that that's a really important consideration as we look at coming back to school. Obviously, health and safety paramount. But we know that that health and safety extends to those children, some of them in their home environments. And so we want to be able to get them into safe environments where they can be engaged in that learning and help them to make the academic progress that we are after. It's interesting, Laura, as I hear you read these e-mails coming in from parents and teachers. It's almost like it makes your heart wrench a bit. As you think about these poor people and they're just the agonizing aspect that they're going through. And so I really appreciate and I'm happy that they are expressing themselves. I want to try and find a way to just give them some assurances and as Ashley said, there's no 100 percent assurance here. But I think it's important to consider that we're not the first that have actually gone through this process. There are 20 countries around the world that have gone through this reopening process. So a lot of information that we can glean from them and that we can learn from them about how they did it, how they did it safely in their communities and did it well so that we can accommodate all of our different learners and all of our different educators.

Laura Knoy:
I've looked at those and I'm really interested into how different countries have done it. The one difference I see, Commissioner, I wonder what you think, is that those countries have more effective testing systems. You can basically get your test and know relatively quickly whether you have COVID-19 or not. Here in New Hampshire, it's taking five, six, seven, eight days to get your results. And, you know, if you're a student or a parent or a teacher, that's just not effective to open the school. So I wonder, are we putting the cart before the horse here without effective rapid testing? Can we really do what those countries have done?

Commissioner Edelblut:
So I think what we can also learn from those other countries is that we have a significantly less density than they do. Obviously, the circumstances on the ground in Manchester that John has to deal with are going to be very different than the circumstances on the ground up in the north country. Last week, we had North Country superintendents meeting in person to talk about their reopening plans and how they are going to move forward in the environment that they're dealing with. So, again, I think what we need to do is just keep in context that we are a very different state across the full geography, and we want to make sure that we create plans that are effective in those communities.

Laura Knoy:
To the point that our Facebook writer makes, Megan, you know, kids who are in unsafe homes situations, certainly at the beginning of the pandemic, we did a ton of shows about, you know, child abuse, neglect, kids who really struggled with remote learning. I had a top pediatrician in the state say to me, we can't keep doing this to kids, isolating them, keeping them out of school. How do we do this safely, Megan? But keeping in mind that safety and health is more than just coronavirus. There are, you know, children who are really struggling with other types of situations, including mental health. I just wonder what your broad thoughts are there.

Megan Tuttle:
It's a very real concern. If I had a perfect answer, I think I could do things much better. I don't know if there's a way for some of the younger kids, daycares are back open with different guidelines and different recommendations and different requirements. Maybe, you know, Boys and girls clubs, things like that, could house some of those kids that can't be staying home in limited numbers. I don't know. You know, just one kind of thought that might be possible. The thing that still gets us about this is we are worried about the health and safety. And you have to wear a mask to go in a store to buy the school supplies. But then you're not going to be required when you go back to school to use those supplies. And that just, you know, that something about that just doesn't seem right. Those kids that are at a higher risk for everything, they need to be back somewhere. But putting them in the middle of a school with 300 plus other kids or whatever the number is, isn't going to help either. This is a really high risk for everybody, and we just really think it's a gamble. Even taking all that into consideration.

Laura Knoy:
Well, after a short break, I'm going to ask you and John about this hybrid model that everybody's talking about. But Commissioner Edelblut, I want to ask you one last question. If you look ahead to this, and I'm sorry to be so negative, but worst case scenario, what's the trigger point for putting kids back into remote learning 100 percent, and how is that decision made?

Commissioner Edelblut:
So that is a great question, and I think it's an important one that we are all considering in terms of how do we pivot. And so I would tell you that today, I don't think and given the circumstances that we have on the ground, I don't think anyone anticipates that we're going to probably find ourselves in a state wide shutdown. I think what we're going to find is that we are probably going to have either suspected or real incidences of COVID in particular school systems. And that may be disruptive, but it may be a classroom that has to be disrupted or a wing or perhaps a school and maybe even a whole district, depending upon the exposure. But really, in the moment when we have to make those kinds of decisions, health and Human Services has a preeminent role. Those are health based decisions. And they will guide us through the process of determining whether our school systems are safe for our children and safe for our adults who are in those settings. And that's really what should be driving it, which is why we are encouraging. And I know that all of my school leaders are working on this is building a nimble system. How do we come back? And if we find ourselves in circumstances that we need to pivot, whether it's a classroom, a wing or a building, you know, how do we pivot and continue the learning for our children? That's really what we're after here.

Laura Knoy:
If students do have to go to a hundred percent remote and it sounds like you are really, really, really hoping they do not, what could make it better, Commissioner Edelblut, because this is not to, you know, put down the valiant efforts that educators made, but they had to make it very quickly. There were a lot of problems. What could make it better if we do have to go back to that?

Commissioner Edelblut:
So that is an awesome question. And I almost feel like you've set it up and I won't be joining you for the next segment. But I think that John can weigh in on this. So we have put together a variety of training programs for teachers really around formative assessment, understanding exactly where students are so that they can meet their needs if they have to pivot. As a state, we are purchasing a statewide learning management system, making it available for free to all of the schools, as well as some additional software tools. And really what that does is those districts that pivoted quickly in March and maybe had to glue together, whatever they had on hand, now have resources to be able to run an effective learning environment, whether they are doing that in-person, whether they're doing it in a remote setting. So I think that that's an important question and one that we anticipated and are investing in to make sure that it's available to all of our schools and all of our families.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Commission Edelblut, I hope I get a chance to check in with you just before the school year starts. There's so much more here. And we really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

Commissioner Edelblut:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
That's New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut. So after a break, we will look at what this hybrid model that a lot of places around the world have been experimenting with, what that might look like here in New Hampshire. And I've got a lot more e-mails and calls for both of you as well. All that's coming up. So stay with us. This is The Exchange on NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, New Hampshire schools planning for fall with new guidelines from the State Department of Education coming out just last week. And with us for the last 10 minutes of the show, Meghan Tuttle, president of NEA New Hampshire, and John Goldhardt, superintendent of Manchester School District. And both of you, let's go right back to our listeners. And Scott's waiting in Tuftonboro. He's on the line. Hi, Scott. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi. Thank you. So my question is, I'm a teacher and a parent and I have done a lot of surveys in the last two months or so for NEA and New Hampshire, for the state, for my district and so forth. But with all the surveys I've done, I've yet to see any actual data results. I've just heard from the people doing the surveys. And I guess my question for Ms. Tuttle and it would have been for the state as well, is will you be releasing the data collected from those surveys? So we as members of the union and parents and so forth and so on know, you know, what the prevailing wishes are of the people who responded to the survey? Because for frankly, for me, I'm sort of sitting in the dark saying, OK, well, what did people really want? What are they looking for? Because as a teacher, I'm a public servant and would love to know, you know, what people are looking for, that kind of thing.

Laura Knoy:
Well, what would you like, Scott? How did you respond to some of those surveys?

Caller:
Well, I think I'm a special case, and in the minority, I am comfortable as a teacher going back to school. I'm in a district that's got very low numbers. But I also respect the fact that there are many teachers that aren't comfortable. And so I don't think this is just about what my personal wishes are. And I guess what I would like to know, and I would feel a lot better on knowing is how if I knew how everybody else was responding. So I got that the the conventional wisdom, if you will.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's interesting that you called on this, Scott, because Melinda wrote on Facebook. And I want to ask you, Scott, what you think. Melinda writes, I'm an educator and parent of a middle schooler and high schooler. I have noticed that those who are scared to go back are very vocal. Melinda says, I am on one Facebook page where anybody who does not say they are opposed to coming back gets pummeled by the other educators. Do you think that's the case, Scott?

Caller:
I haven't found that to be the case, at least talking with my colleagues. You know, as I said, in every time I've been asked, I've sort of made the same statement. Look, you know, I might very well be in the minority here feeling like that I'm ready to go back, that I'm comfortable in going. Do I think it's overall safe to come back? Well, I usually try to, you know, leave that to the scientists, the people that know. So in other words, I have not felt anybody resentful of me saying I'm ready to go back.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. That's good to hear from you, Scott. I appreciate the call. And the Department of Education did release the results of its survey on the Department of Education Website. And we can put a link on our Website after the show if that makes it easier for folks. What do you think about this call Megan, and what Scott says, he's happy to go back, feels safe going back, but wants to be respectful of other people.

Megan Tuttle:
Yeah, we can actually, we will release to the members the results from our survey. And it was predominantly to wait to go back is what we we found out from our survey. But we can definitely get those out there for you, Scott. You know, the thing with this is we have over 7000 members that are over the age of 50 and we have between three and 4000 that are over the age of 60. So we're hearing from all sorts of members. But the majority do want to wait. I am hearing that people are comfortable to go back into the classroom. And, you know, I think there are the educators out there, but the majority for us and what we've been hearing from them is that they want to wait. The other thing with this, too, is I'm a parent as well. And I have three kids, one going into second grade, one going into fourth grade and one going into eighth grade. And so I'm looking at it, you know, from that perspective, as well as being president for NEA New Hampshire, but also as a parent, my kids will wear masks and they understand why they need to wear masks. And they do go out in public and wear them and they understand the reason behind it. So I think when we're talking about that issue, we need to, you know, take into account that this has to be something more than just a should. And people need to be talking parents, guardians, et cetera, need to be talking to the kids, the reasons to wear them. And that's going to go a long way in the schools.

Laura Knoy:
You know, we could do a whole hour, and I hope we do, just on what this hybrid model means that a lot of people are talking about. And I've gotten so many e-mails about this. Just to summarize them, and I want to ask both of you what you think. John, you first, to summarize the many e-mails that we've received this morning about the hybrid model. There is a concern, John, that a hybrid model will mean literally double the work for teachers, you know, teaching to those students who are in the class, teaching to those students who are at home. Maybe the teacher is home, you know, him or herself. How do these hybrid models even work, John, without meaning the teachers are working, you know, 100 hours a week?

John Goldhardt:
It is a lot of planning. Extremely complicated. The model that I would like, but I don't know yet if we can do it or not, because first of all, before I explain that, the first step of what we are starting, in fact, it'll start going out today or tomorrow is we'll be sending out to each one of our employees, you know, just a letter finding out from them, you know, following HIPAA and privacy, if they have health concerns or high risk issues so that we know if they can be in the building. Because as superintendent, I do not want to put people who are high risk in the building. So we will have a group of folks who really cannot be there and should not be there. I also believe that we should have an option for people who do not want their children in the building at all. And should have that option with a full time remote. So you have to have a group of teachers that can teach them. And then in the hybrid model, the best model, if it can be done, is where it's almost like a co-teaching situation, where one that's doing the in-person part is just doing the in-person. And then the co-teacher colleague is doing the online part so that the burden isn't so high for the teacher to have to cover both ends. The key is how you work that out.

Laura Knoy:
Right. How do you pay for all those teachers, John? I mean, that sounds like two teachers per classroom.

John Goldhardt:
You have half. Yeah. Because you'd have half the number there. And having that work logistically. And, it is, quite frankly, a hot mess to try to work out. But that's the best model for the hybrid to work correctly. And that's what I'm hoping we can do. But that's not something I can promise we can do, because it just depends on if everything works out, putting all that together. And then those two teachers can collaborate together and help each other on both ends of what they're doing.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and that relates to an e-mail we got from Jeff who says, As a parent, I will make the choice of remote learning. It's going to be a simple choice. He says he simply does not want to allow his kid to attend in-person classes. Megan, I'm really interested in this question from you, too, given not only your experience as a teacher and the head of the NEA New Hampshire, but also you said a moment ago that you're a mom of three relatively young children. So how does that hybrid model that a lot of people are talking about here in and in other states, how does that work without a teacher working literally, you know, 12, 13 hours a day?

Megan Tuttle:
Well, it's tough. You know, there are so many variations of what a hybrid model could look like, and I know some districts are working on some days in the classroom, some days at home. So that's their hybrid. Some are looking, you know, like John was just saying that they teach different, some teach remotely, while others are teaching in person. I don't know, specifically how you're going to figure it all out, because it is a lot of planning, it is a lot of maneuvering of how to get people there. And you still have to worry about those parents that want to keep them home but maybe can't stay home with them, you know, especially with the younger kids, because when you have the remote instruction, it's not just putting them in front of a computer and clicking on the link or anything like that. You know, some are looking at Skyping into classrooms, which is a whole nother issue in itself. The other piece with the hybrid is do the educators and do the children have the devices that they need to do the remote work? Do they have the chrome books or, you know, whatever the device might be, iPads or whatever? Is the broadband access actually good enough to be working for that? Because if you have, you know, multiple people on trying to do all the work, we know that things are going to slow down. We also need to look at privacy issues if we're using home Internet, the filters that are at school for the Internet are not at the home. So I don't know how honestly we can get it to work. I think there's a lot of hurdles that we need to go through. And unfortunately, because so many districts, I think were waiting for the governor to come out with the guidelines, these plans were sort of being addressed, but not really being addressed. And I think it just doesn't leave districts enough time to thoroughly vet out and do everything they need to do to make sure that we are doing what's best for the children in New Hampshire. And that's coming from, you know, from a mom point of view and from, you know, a union and a teacher point of view. I just think the safer option right now is to wait until everything can be planned out the way it should be and vetted through and worked out and looked at every possible scenario, instead of trying to get this all done in the next six weeks or four weeks or five weeks until people go back. I just think it's way too soon.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we will have to revisit this issue. We're going to wrap it up for now. But I really appreciate both of you being with us. Megan, thank you very much for your time.

Megan Tuttle:
Thank you for having me.

Laura Knoy:
That's Megan Tuttle, president of NEA New Hampshire. And John Goldhardt, it was great to have you, too.

John Goldhardt:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
That's John Goldhardt, superintendent of the Manchester School District. And you're listening to The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.