CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire's guidelines for reopening schools “do very little to keep students and staff safe" from the coronavirus, the president of the state's largest teachers' union said Wednesday.
The state is leaving it up to each school district to decide whether to fully return to the classroom, continue with remote learning or develop hybrid models that combine elements of both. Guidance released Tuesday by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu outlines recommendations for screening, social distancing, hygiene and other safety measures aimed at preventing further spread of the coronavirus, but includes very few mandates. For example, masks will be required for all outside visitors, including parents, but only encouraged for staff and students.
While Sununu emphasized the need to provide flexibility for districts that face different challenges and levels of risk, Megan Tuttle said the state's impressive results in containing the virus so far have been achieved by putting safety first, not via flexible restrictions.
“Somehow, when it comes to school children and educators, the Governor believes the virus will act so differently that students and staff don’t need to wear masks, and social distance rules apply only if practical,” said Tuttle, NEA-NH president, in a statement. “We had hoped for a set of minimum safety standards for all schools to achieve before they were safe to reopen. Instead, we received 56 pages of ‘shoulds’ not ‘shalls.'"
Tuttle also said front-line public school educators were not invited to be on the task force that created the guidelines. But at least seven teachers served on the task force, as did Tuttle herself. And more than 11,800 instructional staff members also provided input via a survey, representing roughly half of the state’s teachers, according to the Department of Education.
In other coronavirus-related developments:
NATIONAL GUARD EXTENSION
Gov. Chris Sununu is seeking permission to allow members of the New Hampshire National Guard to continue their work related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The federal government has approved activating 1,000 members of the guard until Aug. 21. In a letter to President Donald Trump, Sununu asked that up to 400 members continue their work through Dec. 31 to help maintain screening and testing sites and to stage and distribute personal protective equipment and medical supplies.
As of Wednesday, 6,113 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 24 from the previous day. Two new deaths were announced, bringing the total to 394. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.