New Hampshire schools barred from going remote

(The Center Square) – New Hampshire schools are barred from shifting to remote learning due to COVID-19 outbreaks under new rules adopted by state education leaders.

On Friday, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules unanimously approved the updated rules on “distance learning” declaring that remote learning days would only count toward the state’s 180-day school year requirement during inclement weather or if a parent or guardian specifically requests it.

Remote learning days prompted by COVID-19 outbreaks, staffing shortages and other factors would not count toward the school year under the new rules, which were adopted by the state Board of Education during an emergency meeting Friday afternoon.

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut told the education board that with COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations receding, it’s time for schools to move beyond the pandemic.

“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,” he said.

Gov. Chris Sununu praised the decision, saying it is another sign of a return to normalcy following two years of pandemic-related disruptions “and ensures New Hampshire delivers the student experience our kids need and deserve.”

“In-person learning is where our students receive the best education,” Sununu said in a statement.

Megan Tuttle, president of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association, criticized the new policy and said it usurps the authority of local school boards to shift to remote learning if there is another outbreak.

“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,” she said in a statement.

Democrats have filed proposals in the Republican-controlled Legislature seeking to block the remote learning rules, but they have failed to gain traction amid GOP opposition.

One proposal, which was killed by the state Senate last week, would have given school boards the sole authority to decide whether or not to shift to remote learning during an outbreak.

Another Democratic proposal, which is pending before the House Education Committee, would block the state from enforcing any rules on remote learning for local school districts.