The Bulletin Board

Schools, parents raise concerns over state rules restricting remote learning

By: - November 10, 2021 4:26 pm
A woman speaks to the State Board of Education

Lisa Beaudion (right), chairwoman of the State Advisory Committee on the Education of Children/Students with Disabilities, urges the State Board of Education to amend its proposed rule on remote learning. From left are Drew Cline, chairman of the State Board of Education; Frank Edelblut, commissioner of the Department of Education; and board member Phil Nazzaro. (Ethan DeWitt | New Hampshire Bulletin)

School administrators and teachers appeared before the State Board of Education Wednesday to voice opposition to a proposed rule that would prevent school districts from imposing schoolwide remote learning due to COVID-19.

But Drew Cline, the board’s chairman, pushed back at some of the criticism, arguing that the current rule does not adequately include parental choice.

Introduced in September, the proposal would roll back a measure passed earlier this year that allows districts to enter into schoolwide remote learning to address COVID-19 outbreaks. The new rule would allow schools to offer remote learning as an option for students but would require that in-person learning also be offered to families who don’t want to be remote.

Schools could cancel classes entirely under the proposed rule if they deemed it necessary, but they would have to make up those lost days at the end of the year. The current rule allows schools to count remote learning days toward their yearly required instructional time. 

At Wednesday’s public hearing on the rule, school officials, teachers unions, and some parents said it would tie districts’ hands while the threat of the coronavirus persists.

“Gov. Sununu recently said at a press conference that this fall and winter is going to get worse for COVID,” said Brian Hawkins, director of governance and administration at the National Education Association of New Hampshire, a teachers union. “In light of that, why would we take this option away from school districts and have it count for the number of instructional days?”

Lisa Witte, superintendent of the Monadnock Regional School District, said the rule change would take away the ability of school districts to make executive decisions.

“We want to be able to continue remote learning so that we’re not interrupting the flow of the school year when we have a COVID (outbreak),” she said.

“It’s not what the district wants,” she added, “it’s what is in the best interest of our communities and health and safety.”

Responding to Witte, Cline noted that the rule does not prevent schools from shutting down in the event of a surge in COVID-19 that was deemed unsafe.

“You can close the school,” he said. “You just have to add a day in the school year.”

Cline said the intent of the rule change was to allow some parents to be able to request remote learning if they desired it, and for other parents to continue to send their children to school in person. 

“The proposal anticipates a parent buy-in, right?” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re trying to get that balance.”

Some at the hearing, such as Lisa Beaudion, chairwoman of the State Advisory Committee on the Education of Children/Students with Disabilities, said the board should change the rules to require that schools offer remote learning options to students who ask them. As currently written, the rule allows only parents to request remote learning; it does not mandate that schools say yes to it.

To Bonnie Dunham, remote learning has a personal resonance. Though her son with disabilities is now an adult, Dunham noted he is immunocompromised, and she said he’d be a model beneficiary of a remote-learning policy if he were still in school. Schoolwide remote learning policies would also allow her daughter to stay home and avoid bringing back the virus, too, Dunham said. 

“Unless our school chose to offer that option, we would have either had to send our daughter away, live with a family member, put her up in an apartment at 8 years old, or drop out of the public school system,” Dunham said. 

Cline said the board would look into making that change to the rules. 

The proposed rule is still far from implementation. The Board of Education must hold a vote; if the rule is approved, it must go to the state’s Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, which must approve it and might modify it, and it must then return to the Board of Education for final approval. 

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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. Email: [email protected]