Following the recommendation of the Profile School Advisory Committee, the Profile School Board voted unanimously to shift the 7-12 school in Bethlehem into all-remote learning for two weeks, beginning Monday, March 1, following winter vacation.
“The main thing was that although the numbers are trending down, they are still not at the level they were last fall before Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Kim Koprowski, chair of the school board, said Monday. “We felt this was the safest thing to do … We have to err on the side of caution. People are COVID-exhausted and we want to make sure we are doing the right thing even if not everyone else does.”
The concerns about COVID-19 risk and exposure are similar to concerns some school boards and administrators voiced about the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, a time when travel was expected to be higher and risk of infection greater.
Numbers in New Hampshire bore that out in January, when cases spiked locally and schools that resumed classroom learning had a number of exposures that prompted cohorts of students, teachers, and staff members to self-isolate at home, including more than 50 at Littleton High School.
Numbers began to decrease several weeks ago, and as of Monday, confirmed active cases were less than five in the Profile School communities of Bethlehem and Franconia at zero in the towns of Sugar Hill and Easton.
Still, risks remain, said Koprowksi, who pointed out a recent spike in cases at Plymouth State University, which in a span of several days went from 30 to more than 180 cases.
“They locked down the university in hopes of controlling that,” she said.
While not all parents at Thursday’s school board meeting agreed with the idea of all-remote learning for two weeks, Koprowski said she and White Mountains School District SAU 35 interim Superintendent Tari Thomas received written concerns from a number of parents worried that some other parents and students might travel out of the area during winter break, return to school, and not be honest about their travels.
Another consideration, she said, was brought up by Jill Brewer, a Profile School counselor, who had to previously quarantine with a cohort of students after close being in close proximity to a teacher who felt fine coming into school on one of the first days back from Christmas vacation, only to feel ill a few hours later and then test positive.
“Jill was in close contact and checked in on them every day and said it was terrible to have to isolate,” said Koprowski. “They have to stay in their rooms and have to sanitize the bathroom each time they use it. She said she doesn’t think anyone wants to go through that again. That was a heavy consideration.”
Both state and federal health experts conclude that the virus spreads more easily at the high school level and less in the younger grades, resulting in the Profile School Board to “feel pretty good about the decision,” she said.
And more parents this time support the shift to two weeks all-remote, said Koprowski.
According to Thomas, possible COVID cases were likely prevented when the school was in remote learning following Christmas, when several Profile families were case positive.
The only thing that’s different this time compared to last time the school was in remote is that students in sports, those on the Nordic ski team and two basketball teams, will have tournaments, said Koprowski.
Those students and their parents agreed through a contract not to travel during winter break and to continue with the mitigation efforts of masking, distancing, and sanitation, she said.
“Hopefully, we will all start getting vaccines,” said Koprowski. “They moved the teachers up a little bit, and I believe the teachers will be vaccinated in March, and that will be wonderful. They will try to do it on a Friday, and if they do have side effects, they will have the weekend.”
Profile School’s remote decision is not expected to conflict with an emergency order signed by Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday that calls on schools to offer in-person instruction to all students for at least two days a week beginning on Monday, March 1.
“My understanding of it is there were a handful of schools in the state that are totally remote and he is trying to push those to go to two days a week,” said Koprowski. “Since we have been doing that all year, we’ve been face to face, with the exception of a remote period. You could call us hybrid. We should be good.”
In his order, Sununu said studies show K-12 schools are at low risk of spreading the virus and classroom learning is important for students’ mental health and quality education.
SAU 35’s younger-grade schools, the K-6 Bethlehem Elementary School and K-6 Lafayette Regional School, are not planning the remote model after winter vacation.
For Profile School, as the vaccine rolls out, Koprowski said the hope is that the upcoming shift to remote will be the last time the school will be in remote learning.
“I am hopeful,” she said.
The advisory school committee, which met on Feb. 15 to make its recommendation to the school board, is made up of members that include teachers, administrators and school staff, parents, and the school nurse.