LITTLETON — Days after the Littleton School Board voted 3-2 to maintain four-day school weeks through the remainder of the school year, the governor issued a new emergency order calling for all New Hampshire schools to resume five-day school weeks beginning in April.
The order went to a discussion Monday by the Littleton School Board, which on March 29 voted to take the recommendation of Littleton School District SAU 84, Superintendent William Hart, to keep with the current four-day weeks in the classroom (Wednesdays are remote learning days and planning days for teachers) because it has worked well, is the basis of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Littleton Teachers Association union, and accommodates the teachers’ COVID-19 vaccination schedules.
The governor’s order issued on Friday, though, calls for schools to resume five-day weeks beginning Monday, April 19, the week before April vacation.
In a split vote similar to last week, the Littleton School Board on Monday took Hart’s recommendation to seek a waiver to keep a four-day week during the week of April 19 and resume five-day weeks beginning Monday, May 3, following April vacation (which is April 26 to 30).
“As you can imagine, there’s been a lot of discussion around this emergency order from the governor, and over the last few days there’s been conversations with superintendents,” said Hart.
Although Gov. Chris Sununu has ordered schools back to five days for 6 1/2 hours a day, there are exceptions, including for emergencies around COVID-19 that would create staffing issues or significant student absenteeism, he said.
Under the order, a K-12 school can transition to all-remote learning for up to 48 hours without approval if such a transition is needed to assess concerns regarding infections, staffing shortages, or other unexpected events.
A school can make the transition to all-remote learning for longer than 48 hours for the same COVID-related reasons, but must then receive approval from the New Hampshire Department of Education commissioner, who would consider any request in consultation with the governor and state Division of Public Health Services.
After consulting with Mike Elwell, legal counsel for the Littleton School District, Hart said it’s clear to him that the district needs to follow the governor’s order, which he said supersedes the school board’s MOU with teachers.
“I met with union representatives today and we started what I thought was a good conservation,” said Hart. “My intent is to say to our administrative team that we need to move forward with opening the schools five days a week. You still have to support students that are in remote, both for medical reasons and just for personal decision reasons.”
Hart, though, said he will look to see if there is a waiver component connected to health and safety.
“I think it makes sense for us to look for a wavier for that week before vacation,” he said. “I’m hoping that will be a strong enough argument for the governor or Department of Education …”
The rationale for a waiver is that the overwhelming majority of teachers will be fully vaccinated when schools resume on May 3 following April vacation, but they won’t be fully vaccinated a week prior to vacation, said Hart.
A waiver request also comes during a time when the current number of active confirmed cases in Littleton has increased in recent weeks, he said.
Hart said some school superintendents have talked about ignoring the order, but that would not be his recommendation, in part because the Littleton School District receives a good chunk of money from the state.
“We put ourselves at risk if we try to take a stand on this issue,” he said.
School Board Chairman Greg Cook made the motion to allow Hart to pursue the waiver for the week prior to April vacation, to allow school staff to complete their vaccination period, and then resume the five-day school week model beginning Monday, May 3.
“This is something I will not be voting for,” said Matt St. John, the newest member of the school board who last week voiced support for resuming five-day school weeks as quickly as possible. “The district has been more restrictive than the situation has warranted … My understanding of the governor’s order is we do have a reprieve if we get to the 19th, and because of quarantines, because of cases, because of whatever the situation, we can for up to 48 hours be fully remote or partially remote …”
The governor’s order is written in such a way that it gives the school district, and ultimately the superintendent, flexibility if the situation looks scary on April 19, 20 or 21 to make a temporary transition to remote, and it gives the district “the security blanket we need to get through April,” he said.
Cook said the waiver is not a guarantee and could be denied at the state level.
In a split vote identical to last week, Cook and school board members Ann Wiggett and Larry Blaisdell and voted to take Hart’s recommendation to pursue the waiver for the week before April vacation and resume five-day weeks beginning May 3.
St. John and school board member Erica Antonucci voted against Hart’s recommendation, making for a 3-2 vote in favor.