SAU 16 shifting plan to remote learning for Exeter area schools

EXETER – SAU 16 schools are now planning not to open school buildings at the start of the 2020-21 school year, Superintendent David Ryan announced Friday.

The announcement made in a video Ryan emailed to families and staff members is a change of direction for the district amid the coronavirus pandemic. Ryan and SAU 16 were previously moving toward a hybrid plan combining in-person and remote learning for students at Exeter High School and Cooperative Middle School, as well as the elementary schools in Exeter, Stratham, Newfields, Kensington, East Kingston and Brentwood.

Now, Ryan announced, he will propose to the SAU 16 Joint Board Monday night a plan calling for remote learning with possibly some in-person features, including operating the Seacoast School of Technology as normal. He also indicated day care services may be offered for some families.

Ryan cited several factors for deciding to change direction. They included, he said, “workforce availability due to staff health-related factors” and the “interdependent result of surrounding school districts’ return-to-school plans.”

Another factor he cited is a slight uptick recently in COVID-19 cases in Rockingham County and New Hampshire, which has been reported by the state Department of Health and Human Services. He also mentioned modeling provided by COVID Act Now, which, he said, showed the risk of transmission has changed from “slow disease growth” to “at risk” in the county.

“Our understanding is this is a forecast for an incoming second surge that, combined with influenza when the weather turns, will have a grave impact on any in-person SAU operations in the near future,” Ryan said.

He added the plan will be reevaluated in mid- to late October.

He said families will benefit from the certainty of knowing remote learning will be happening at the start of school for planning purposes, and the district is working to improve remote learning and offer more support systems.

“Your child’s remote learning experience will be vastly different from last spring,” he said. “Teachers and students will be engaged in consistent daily learning schedules in all subject areas each day with each class consisting of interactive large and small group direct instructions, breakout sessions for one-on-one assistance and coordinated breaks at the elementary level for neighborhood groups to socialize if desired.

“The plan may also feature in-person learning opportunities, especially for students who require additional learning interventions and students who are engaged in specialized services. We are organizing community remote learning centers with our remote partners for full-day care and assistance for students whose parents are not able to be home during the school day because they need to be able to go to work.”

He acknowledged some community members will disagree with the approach he is now supporting and assured the district will continue to adapt to changing conditions.

“This is a very complicated time,” he said. “We have, from the outset, professed our belief that in-person learning is by far the most effective means for educating children. That belief has not changed nor has our efforts to do so subsided. … We believe we have done our best to provide the most honest and responsible result possible.”

The SAU Joint Board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday Aug. 10 via Zoom video conference and families are encouraged to submit questions in advance, Ryan said, urging all families to participate.

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