Edelblut: 178,000 NH kids homeschooled by Monday, wants evidence of call for teachers to stay home

Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education Frank Edelblut. Photo/Carol Robidoux

CONCORD, NH – By Monday, all 178 school districts across New Hampshire will be educating the state’s 178,000 students remotely, according to Frank Edelblut, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education.

He said the districts are using a variety of platforms such as Google Classroom and Zoom and some are using a combination of digital and analog.   In areas with low broadband coverage school districts are providing hard copies of materials.

Remote learning began earlier this week for many districts and Edelblut said through the efforts of school leaders and teachers and the “incredible support of families,” it went extremely well.

The commissioner said it was a significant shift in how children are being educated and “so we are proud of our educators and teachers who have stepped up to make this possible.  We know our children will be learning, our educators will be learning and really all of New Hampshire is learning through this process.”

He said it isn’t known if remote learning will cost more so school officials have been asked to keep track of extraordinary expenses connected to implementing the programs so that in the event additional federal funding becomes available the state will have the information needed to apply for grants.  The state is receiving $4.9 million in federal aid to help in the response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Asked if he expected remote learning to continue beyond April 3, Edelblut said that date is a “reevaluation date” not an end date.  Officials will decide on April 3 whether remote learning will continue during the COVID-19 crisis.

Asked about a growing call from the education community asking him and Gov. Chris Sununu to mandate educators work from home, Edelblut declined to answer the question saying he wanted to know what evidence there was that that, in fact, was happening.

On Friday, 13 New Hampshire Teachers of the Year signed an open letter to the Governor and Edelblut in which they asked just that.  “Just as you stepped in and made a statement about students staying home, we are asking you —begging you — to do the same for all education staff.  

“Please tell our superintendents to tell our teachers and paraprofessionals:  Stay home. Be Safe.” 

The ongoing pandemic has led to the postponement of the SAT exam for high school juniors which was to take place on March 25.  No new date has been set.

Edelblut said the state is trying to decide whether it will ask the federal government for a waiver of that exam as well as the state assessment test given for third to eighth grade, something other states have done.

Asked if the state was looking into using college and university dormitories for COVID-19 patients in the event hospitals are overwhelmed, the commissioner said that was a question for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Jake Leon, DHHS spokesman, said in an email, “Everything is on the table.  The state is planning for potential surge needs, including identifying organizations with facilities such as dorm rooms that could provide additional room capacity. We are currently preparing facilities in the state so they are ready to support healthcare facilities during a surge.”

Edelblut suggested a reporter search #NHlearnsremotely on Twitter to view posts from the public and others of children learning remotely.  

One post shows a video of Bow Elementary School Assistant Principal Tim Vasconcellos reading the book, “How to Speak Moo” by Deborah Fajerman.  Christine Brennan posted the video telling Vasconcellos, “Nice job” and “Our grandkids love and look forward to your videos.”

Another post from the Cornish School shows a child at a computer wearing headphones and giving a thumbs up.

These stories are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.