Andover Parent Makes Case for Return to In-Person Learning

A group has been created to spear-head logistics

By Molly B. Morgan, M.S.

It’s 4 PM and a young girl, hair disheveled, wearing pink sweatpants, perches atop her bed, Chromebook on lap. Although based on real Andover children, let’s call her Peggy. She has hardly moved from her perch, even to eat, since 9 AM. It is Tuesday, and it is her second day of “remote learning” at AE/MS. Yesterday was the same.

Her parents should have insisted Peggy get outside to get some fresh air. They should have insisted she eat a proper lunch. But Mom left for work at 8 AM and Dad has been on Zoom calls most of the day. It is cold outside, so when Dad told her to walk the dog before dark, Peggy refused. He gingerly cajoled. He bribed. He threatened. But Peggy wouldn’t budge.

Instead, Peggy begged to finish watching Youtuber Azzy (a bubble-gum popping, too-much-make-up wearing 19-year-old virtual star) finish up an on-line session of truth or dare with a “Wheel of Fortune” style spinner. He knows about boundaries and consequences and consistency in parenting. But, rather than fighting the good fight, late for the next meeting, he closed her door and thought to try again after his next call.

Peggy, a fifth grader, couldn’t tell you the answer to 6 x 3 without using her fingers. She refuses to practice with her parents, and nobody else has since had the time to help her re-learn them. She was just about half-way finished learning her times tables when school closed last March.

But from March 13 to October 20, 2020, Peggy only had 12 days of in-person school. Maybe it’s up to 30 now. It should be close to 200. The other days, she is left to one to two hours of remote work done independently. At best, the rest of her education is left to Azzy and other popular, insubstantial YouTubers.

Parents are seeing their kids becoming addicted (literally) to their devices, hardly getting exercise and social engagement. Peggy and her classmates are increasingly depressed and irritable. Inappropriate material is being accessed on school-issued Chromebooks.  Angry outbursts ensue when devices are taken away.

And the vaccine is unlikely to help Peggy’s situation, at least this year. Based on the proposed New Hampshire vaccine roll out, most teachers and students are unlikely to receive the COVID-19 vaccine prior to the proposed end date of school.

For these reasons, despite COVID-19 surging in New Hampshire and across the country, many Andover parents think kids should be in school four to five days per week (instead of the current hybrid model, where students attend just two days a week). And for good reason.

Despite the current COVID-19 surge, approximately half of all schools in New Hampshire remain fully open for in-person learning, most with a full remote option. This is because New Hampshire and nationwide data indicates that the spread of COVID-19 within schools is very minimal.

According to Bureau Chief of New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Department of Infectious Disease Control Elizabeth Daley, “There have been many schools with just one to two cases and therefore believe that transmission in school is not occurring very frequently due to the precautions that have been implemented in school settings.”

Daley’s findings have trickled down to communities like ours deciding which school model is “best.” Daley’s office, in the Fall of 2020, published a guidance document called, Considerations for Transitioning between Schools Instructional Models Based on Level of Community COVID-19 Transmission and Impact on Local Schools (adopted by the Andover School Board in January) that outlines when schools should transition from remote to hybrid to full in-person learning models. Although initially the document placed stricter guidance for schools during “substantial” community spread, an update to this guidance was released on November 20, 2020 that states:

“Schools may take a less restrictive approach than what is suggested in the table [document] above. For example, if a school is operating with a full in-person instructional model and able to manage with low school impact despite a ‘substantial’ level of community transmission, then schools can very reasonably hold courses and continue with in-person instruction if resources allow. This suggestion is based on data and experience showing that as of November 18, 2020, there has been minimal transmission identified in the K-12 school educational setting … and despite the occurrence of some limited/small clusters, there have been no larger outbreaks that have occurred in non-residential K-12 schools.”

According to AE/MS Principal Dennis Dobe, local resources do allow for re-opening. During the last several School Board meetings, Dobe has communicated that AE/MS has proper resources (staffing, mask compliance, physical distancing, proper ventilation) to conduct school with all children in the building full time and can comply with the standards of COVID-19 transmission prevention.

In fact, some argue that children are less likely to contract and spread COVID-19 if in a fully in-person model vs. a hybrid model. In a hybrid model, school children might attend daycare on Monday, Grandma’s on Tuesday, and have a college-aged babysitter on Thursday. It is abundantly clear that COVID-19 transmission is most common in college-aged young adults, who are often the ones providing childcare to many Andover kids on remote days.

Therefore, teachers (and the whole community for that matter) might actually be safer if school children came to school every day rather than to a variety of different settings during the week, all practicing different (or non-existent) COVID-19-prevention measures.

Based on the Center for Disease Control and New Hampshire DHHS guidelines, the available AE/MS resources, and data that suggests minimal transmission in schools, the Andover School Board should vote to fully open up our school in full in-person learning. Because, even within “substantial” rates of COVID-19 community transmission, data suggests spread is not happening in schools and that schools can operate safely. In fact, many of our neighboring school communities  (New London, Sunapee, Grantham, Lebanon), also believe this to be true, and at the time of writing, remain open on a four or five day per week model. They have confidence in the data and have shown offering in-person schooling can be done safely.

Because Peggy really needs to get off her Chromebook, learn her multiplication facts, and go to recess with her classmates, Andover should follow suit. For the health and wellness of Andover kids like Peggy and all the parents of Andover, Andover kids need to be back in school.

A working group has been created to spear-head the reopening of AE/MS led by School Board member Adam Jones. The working group, as well as the other members of the School Board, need your feedback and ideas. Jones can be e-mailed at  Andover School Board meetings are held the first Tuesday of every month at 6:30 PM. A link to the virtual meeting as well as the e-mail addresses of other school board members can be found at