By David Noyes
The Londonderry School Reopening Task Force convened on Wednesday, Aug. 18, and the group comprised of school personnel, community members, and parents discussed the various challenges facing Londonderry’s efforts to safely open schools while maneuvering through the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.
The task force pointed their discussion towards student sick policies, masking recommendations, and various other mitigation tactics needed to keep students, school staff, and the community safe.
The task force unanimously voted to consider local data specific to Londonderry, rather than including the surrounding counties and New Hampshire as a whole, to inform the various decisions that need to be made to keep infection rates in schools down.
Superintendent Scott Laliberte emphasized the task force will be taking, “a more localized approach to reactions, to cases…We do feel like we get pretty good data although we never get enough of it. We always want more data that’s specific to Londonderry.”
While disagreements did unfold at points throughout the meeting, Dan Black, Assistant Superintendent, noted a common core value: “if we have multiple positive cases and do nothing, were negligent. Were in charge of 4,200 people’s kids’ lives, we don’t take that lightly.”
The conversation swirling over mask recommendations zeroed in on who should be recommended to mask up in the event of a positive case. The task force debated the nuances of mask recommendations based on various degrees of exposure to Covid-19. For example, masking specific classrooms where positive cases occur versus larger spread throughout multiple classrooms where the entire school may need to dawn facemasks. Kim Capone, pupil services, clarified that “as of today, our recommendation is, in a case of a known positive in a classroom where we know for sure that children were exposed, it is our recommendation to require facemasks.” Ultimately, there is hope amongst the task force that there will be guidance from the New Hampshire Department of Health, although such guidance has yet to be received.
Superintendent Laliberte made sure to highlight that the school board does not have the authority of executive order and thus needs to be cautious with their recommendations. With vaccination rates of Londonderry students between the ages of 12-19 currently below 30 percent, the recommendations put forth by the school board will be an important tool in the fight to keep positive cases down and avoid school closures throughout the year. It was noted that the school board will be using federal covid assistance to purchase 5,000 testing kids. In the event a student does test positive, these tests will be available to ensure a speedy return to the classroom.
Fred Heinrick, Public Health Enforcement Officer, underscored the entire reopening process with his remark that, “nobody expected the delta variant. I can’t tell you what the next variant will be…We’re in unknown territory. But the important thing is that people care. They care about themselves, they care about their friends and their communities.”
During these uncertain times, the reopening task force will continue to meet throughout the school year and convene in emergency situations.