The State Board of Education in New Hampshire unanimously voted to prohibit schools from going remote, notably reducing emergency abilities granted to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Feb. 18, the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules upheld the motion in a 5-0 vote on the same day,
Schools in New Hampshire can now only move to remote instruction if severe weather makes it unsafe to transport students to campus. Parents are also allowed to request virtual instruction for their individual students.
A school can close if a significant number of students or staff members contract COVID-19, but the administration is now obligated to schedule a make-up instructional day at the end of the school year.
The rule went into immediate effect for all schools in the state.
“The biggest point to understand is that schools and districts have the ability to close the school for health and safety reasons,” said Drew Cline, chairman of the State Board of Education, to Concord Monitor. “That does not change at all. What this does is it says if they close for health and safety reasons, they may offer remote instruction if the parents request it. If the parents don’t request it, then they just tack on another in-person day at the end of the year.”
Some teachers and administrators opposed the measure, citing the shortage of substitute teachers, safety concerns, and the infectious nature of the omicron variant, per NHPR.
“This decision flies in the face of common sense and the longstanding policy to provide local officials the flexibility they need in circumstances where COVID has spread in a school to the point where the only option left is to take a brief pause to arrest the spread to protect the students and the community at large,” said Megan Tuttle, the president of the NEA-New Hampshire teacher’s union, in a statement following the vote.
Franks Edleblut, New Hampshire’s Educational Commissioner, said the increasingly stable status of the pandemic makes it appropriate to once again prioritize in-person instruction.
“We’re not really finding that we are having the types of disruptions that we had in the beginning of this pandemic, even in the middle of this pandemic and over the last couple of months with the omicron surge,” Edelblut said to WMUR Manchester.
The new rule was backed by Republican Governor Chris Sununu who said, “In-person learning is where our students receive the best education.”
“Today’s decision returns us to pre-COVID practices and ensures New Hampshire delivers the student experience our kids need and deserve,” the governor said in a statement.