Merrimack Valley Life

Inside Salem Schools

What will school be like this fall?



What will Salem schools be like in the fall? This question will occupy the thoughts of school officials and parents alike throughout the summer. Gov. Chris Sununu’s education task force is expected to provide recommendations and guide­lines, but schools will likely be left with the difficult task of working within these parameters to provide a safe environment for students and staff.

“We are currently planning for multiple scenarios,” said Salem Superintendent of Schools Michael Delahanty. “We know how to hold school in the traditional fashion and that’s what we’d all prefer. But we also have to be ready for alternative solutions to ensure the health and well-being of our students and staff. ”

Even a traditional return to school will be far from normal.

“The one thing we can be sure of is that this virus will still be with us in the fall,” Delahanty acknowledged. “Some parents not want their students to return to classes until there’s a vaccine. There will be staff and teachers in high-risk groups that will not feel safe returning. It’s going to look different no matter what we do.”

Separating students based on social dis­tance guidelines will drastically reduce the number of students that can fit in a typical classroom setting.

Separating students based on social dis­tance guidelines will drastically reduce the number of students that can fit in a typical classroom setting.

Returning to school while following social distancing protocols presents nu­merous logistical as well as mathematical challenges.

“Spacing desks out 6 feet apart leaves room for roughly six students in a class­room,” Delahanty explained. These class­rooms typically hold 20 or more students. “Separating students on a bus limits capac­ity to eight students.”

The numbers just don’t add up, he said.

Delahanty said school officials will be holding planning sessions this summer to discuss issues related to a full return to school, a hybrid featuring a combination of in-person and remote schooling, or a con­tinuation of full distance learning.

“We’ll be examining every aspect of our operations to identify areas that need to be eliminated, modified or enhanced under each scenario,” Delahanty added. “This preparation will put the Salem School District in a position to react swiftly and responsibly when state and local health and safety officials approve a plan for re-open­ing school.”

When schools closed in March, the dis­trict quickly pivoted to a distance learning model.

“We learned a lot during those three months and will be much better prepared should we need to return to a remote environment at some point,” Delahanty said. “But we know this isn’t an equitable learning environment — especially for our younger students and those with special needs.”

One thing the recent distance learning experience has made clear is the important role schools play in the social and emotion­al well-being of Salem’s students.

“I think we take for granted the impact teachers have through their connections with students,” added Delahanty. “Regard­less of how school looks in the fall, we’ll be more intentional in our efforts to foster these connections.”

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