The Bulletin Board

Commissioner accepts school’s remote learning decision but says it should be ‘last resort’

By: - October 8, 2021 4:48 pm
Exterior of the Department of Education, a brick building with white trim around the windows and columns around the entry

The program was passed as part of the two-year state budget. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire)

One day after Raymond High School entered into remote learning over concerns about COVID-19, Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut offered tacit approval.

The department is still stressing that students should be sent home only as a “last resort,” Edelblut said in a statement Thursday.

“The Department of Education understands that families have legitimate concerns about COVID-19, and we are empathetic to those impacted by the virus,” Edelblut said.

But, he added, “remote learning should be a last resort, and should only be in place for a short period of time if found to be absolutely necessary for safety reasons.”

The statement represented the department’s acceptance of the decision by Raymond to enter into remote learning, despite efforts by Edelblut to discourage schools from doing so.

Raymond High School has been hit with a “clustering of COVID-19 outbreaks” in recent days, which prompted the school to send its entire high school into remote learning on Thursday and Friday, the school announced Wednesday.

Those cases have led the school board to initiate a mask mandate in the elementary and middle schools too, the district announced.

It is unclear whether remote learning at the high school will continue into next week; district officials were not immediately available to comment Friday.

The closure follows a decision by Manchester School District to send classrooms in two elementary schools into remote learning on Sept. 28. 

Edelblut has urged districts not to enter into mandatory remote learning but to offer it as an option to parents while continuing to offer in-person instruction. 

The department is advocating before the State Board of Education for a new rule to prohibit school-wide remote learning except during weather emergencies or when individual parents ask. That administrative rule will receive its first hearing in November.

On Thursday, Edelblut continued voicing that advice, which has brought criticism from some school districts in recent weeks.

“As we continue to work with school districts and have ongoing dialogue with school administrators, I am acutely aware that these decisions being made at the local level impact children, parents, teachers, work schedules, and more,” the commissioner said. “While all of these factors must be weighed, we have learned throughout the past year that most students are happy and learn best during in-person instruction, which provides them with the greatest opportunities for success.”

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.