By Alex Malm
During the Nov. 30 Londonderry School Board meeting the Board got an update from the District Administration regarding COVID-19 operations after it was requested by the School Board during its Nov. 9 meeting.
It was explained by Superintendent Scott Laliberte that the District is currently in search for a registered nurse to take over some of the responsibilities for COVID related tasks.
He explained that they will be able to bring one in through ESSER III funds, which is part of the American Rescue Plan Act.
The person hired for the role will be helping with administrative tasks and will help with administering COVID tests for asymptotic students whose parents sign them up for the voluntary program.
The District is also in the process of getting approval from the state to do rapid testing at the District office for those who are symptomatic to determine if they have COVID or not.
“That’s going to be a big help for us,” Laliberte said about having a district-wide nurse dedicated to COVID.
Laliberte said that the major thing they are working on is figuring out what information they need in order to create a plan going forward.
“The big conversation for us is looking forward,” Laliberte said. “We would love to see some sort of planning take place looking forward towards what we hope will be an end game,” he went on to say. “That is a complicated process because we don’t know what lies ahead for us but we would like to have some kind of a strategy by which we back off of mitigation strategies by which we get back to a more normal method of operation.”
After consulting with District leadership and leadership at the different schools the Laliberte laid out some of the things that they think they need to consider.
One of the things that was pointed out by Laliberte is that there is no specific way to determine when the pandemic is over.
“Public Health Departments do yet agree on a specific ‘endgame’ to the pandemic, but one metric shared by the NH Department of Health and Human Services is having 80 percent of your school vaccinated as a benchmark to reach in terms of safety,” Laliberte said.
He said that they don’t feel they will be able to reach a 80 percent vaccination rate.
“The Administrative Team does not believe we will reach this benchmark either within our staff or within our student population. Our current approach to COVID 19 is not sustainable due to the need for the district to carry the liability and risk of COVID 19 for the range of reactions to the virus within the community,” Laliberte said. “Currently 51.6 percent of the Londonderry community is fully vaccinated. With the current numbers of COVID 19 in the community, and the low rate of vaccination we do believe our current masking policy could become indefinite for the majority of the school year.”
Laliberte said that one of their recommendations was to form a District Medical Advisory Committee.
“It is the recommendation of the administration that the School Board consider forming a Medical Advisory Committee, to be composed of community members with specific training and expertise in the medical field,” Laliberte said. “The focus of this Advisory Committee would be to provide the Board and District leadership with sound guidance regarding a transition through the end of the pandemic.”
He said that the charge of the Committee could include:
Advising the Board and administrators as to the best course of action relative to a transition out of mitigation strategies.
Providing insights into the roles that variables such as positivity rates and vaccination rates should play in school operations.
Evaluating risk factors for students and staff in unique circumstances.
Providing substantiating documents for the deployment of state or national recommendations.
“If we are able to form a plan that allows the school district to regain its capacity to more normal operations, the Administrative Team does want to address more social emotional learning issues and needs as a school system,” Laliberte said.
He explained that there are a number of different legal questions that need to be answered moving forward.
One is if parents choose not to vaccinate their students, and students catch COVID 19 within our schools, is the school system liable for that outcome? Andother is If staff choose not to vaccinate themselves and catch COVID 19 within our schools, is the school system liable for that outcome?
Laliberte said that they also need to find out answers to if they move to a “personal liability” response to COVID 19 during substantial spread, does the school district have any liability when their co-curricular groups interact with other school systems that have stronger COVID 19 mitigation strategies in place? They also need to find out what are the current state and federal vaccine requirements for schools in New Hampshire? In the future, how would a COVID 19 vaccine requirement for students over 12 come about in the regulatory process? In the future, how would a COVID 19 vaccine requirement for staff come about in the regulatory process?
School Board member Bob Slater said that he didn’t know if they would be able to answer the questions even if they had a medical advisory committee.
“I don’t even know where you begin,” Slater on the different questions. “I don’t know if there’s anybody in this country who can answer them.”
Assistant Superintendent Dan Black said that he thinks that lawyers will be able to provide them with the legal questions they need answered. He said that once those questions are answered they will be able to develop a plan to move forward.
“One you all know the liability we have or don’t have making a transition that’s how we can start to make a plan,” Black said.
Slater pointed out that they could work with a couple of other similar size districts so they can come up with a formula and share thoughts and ideas with each other.
School Board Chair Amy Finamore said that she agreed with Slater that it would be a good idea to speak with other similar size school districts.
The School Board ultimately gave approval for the District Administration to do more research and gather more information in order for them to prepare a plan. They will also be giving updates at each meeting if there are any updates available in regards to their progress.