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Lebanon sticks to hybrid school reopening, approves sports plan

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/26/2020 9:38:58 PM
Modified: 8/26/2020 10:10:31 PM

LEBANON — Calls for the city’s schools to reopen a full five days a week were rebuffed by the Lebanon School Board, which opted Wednesday night to move forward with plans for a hybrid learning model during the coronavirus pandemic.

The board will not reconsider its decision made earlier this month to bring students back for two days a week of in-person instruction, according to Vice Chairwoman Jenica Nelan.

“We know people have a lot of concerns about reopening schools. We received many emails both for and against the approved hybrid plan,” she said at the start of a roughly two-hour meeting held at Lebanon Middle School and streamed live on Zoom.

But, Nelan continued, School Board Chairwoman Wendy Hall did not call for a special meeting to discuss the issue further and none of the nine-member board requested one.

“The board is staying with the hybrid model for opening school,” she said.

Sports plans approved

During the meeting, School Board members approved plans for fall sports at Lebanon High and Middle schools starting Sept. 8. Proposals for both would allow for competition between school districts, but only those in the region with low case numbers of COVID-19.

Athletic Director Mike Stone said Lebanon would play students from Hanover, Mascoma Valley Regional, Stevens, Newport, Fall Mountain Regional and a few other high schools.

“We’ve got quite an extensive schedule for most of our sports,” he said. “And what we’ve tried to do within that schedule is play all of one school’s sports against (another) school in one week. Therefore, if we do have an issue, it’s just the two schools that are affected.”

All of the teams will be taking similar precautions against COVID-19, according to High School Principal Ian Smith. They include forgoing contact practices, sanitizing equipment and monitoring athletes for symptoms.

He told the School Board that there are nearly 180 students signed up for fall sports this year. He worried that, if there are no school-sanctioned sports, student-athletes could look to private leagues that may increase their exposure to others and possibly the virus.

“What happens to those who do not have the means to afford these travel teams? What is their alternative?” Smith asked. “This would be the student demographic that may need access to athletics most.”

School debate continues

While parents attending the meeting applauded the return of fall sports, some wondered why Lebanon’s schools aren’t fully reopening using similar principles.

Coronavirus cases remain low in the Upper Valley, and health experts have said it’s possible to safely bring students back into the classroom ful -time, they argued.

“I truly hope that if it’s the right thing to do to move forward with athletics, that we don’t take that opportunity away from students who need that,” West Lebanon resident Tracy Purcell said. “But I do hope that you can fully appreciate the irony of every single one of those arguments not being applied to why we’re in school.”

Purcell is one of more than 470 people who recently signed an online petition that cited recent scientific studies and evidence that the district could safely return to classes for the duration of the workweek, so long as certain precautions remained in place.

“There’s emerging data to support school reopening in communities with low risk for transmission,” said Paul Barr, a health services researcher at the Dartmouth Institute who spearheaded the petition effort.

Barr, the father of a rising third grader, said Lebanon’s COVID-19 rates are 15 times lower than the maximum approved by public health officials for school reopening. There are no active cases in Lebanon, and only a handful in the neighboring towns of Plainfield, Grantham and Canaan, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The School Board’s decision to maintain the hybrid model also dismayed some parents who worried their children won’t receive an adequate education or spend a proper amount of time with friends outside of the classroom.

Others told the School Board that it’s becoming ever more difficult to care for children during the daytime as businesses reopen and employees return to work.

Hybrid plans detailed

Plans to reopen call for Lebanon students in all grades to return to learning Tuesday, Sept. 8, to what the school district is calling the “A/B model.”

Under the plans, children are split into two groups based on where they live in Lebanon to ensure those from the same household are kept together. Group A then attends in-person classes Mondays and Thursdays, while Group B is in school Tuesdays and Fridays.

When students aren’t physically present in the classroom, they’ll be learning virtually, and all students will have online learning on Wednesdays. The break allows teachers time to plan and staff to clean the school buildings.

Families were told of their children’s placement in an email Friday.

Students and families uncomfortable with returning to in-person instruction are allowed to continue with fully remote learning. About a quarter of the student population is expected to go that route.

Parents will be asked to check their children’s temperature and complete a daily health questionnaire before driving them to school or putting them on the bus, where face masks must be worn.

Masks also will be required inside schools, and the district will work to provide 6 feet of social distancing.

The School Board is expected to next discuss its reopening plans on Wednesday, Sept. 23, when they’ll begin to assess whether students can begin to spend more time in the classroom.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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