The superintendent of Oyster River Cooperative School District in Durham says he expects a number of parents at their school board meeting on Wednesday evening because members will be discussing reopening plans for the academic year.

The district serves students from Durham, Madbury and Lee. High school students in Barrington have the option of going there.

James Morse said they can currently fit as many as 200 people in the high school auditorium on Coe Drive due to social distancing requirements. The auditorium typically holds up to 500 people.

If the number of responses to his survey is any indication, there will be many parents there to talk about masks, hand hygiene and other COVID-19 protocols.

"I would say prior to the pandemic, if I had 40 to 50 percent response, that was good, but now, we're looking at typically 70, 80, 90 percent response. This one is the highest one yet," Morse said of his surveys.

Morse said he received 1,925 responses to his survey about reopening. They have 2,100 children and teenagers in the district.

Morse said he broke the survey apart and offered different questions for parents based on whether their child was in elementary, middle or high school.

Within the middle school level, he broke the survey down further for parents because children under the age of 12 cannot yet be vaccinated.

Morse said they typically have 30 minutes for public comment, but he believes that will be extended on Wednesday night, adding that board members have already received a "tremendous" amount of emails.

Attendees are asked to wear masks, but they will not be required to attend or speak.

Morse said if the school board members don't make a decision on Wednesday, they will have to set the guidelines for returning back to the classroom on Aug. 18.

Board members may want to wait to do so until after Aug. 11, when superintendents and child care service providers will be on a call with State Epidemiologist Benjamin Chan.

But they will have to make a decision about whether or they will follow the plan they created earlier in the year based on state COVID data from May 27 this month.

"It's just a really active time again and ultimately the board will have to make a decision," Morse said.

The plan says, "Until children ages 3 to 11 are vaccinated, which typically represents grades PK-6, it is prudent to maintain a mask mandate, as well as 3-foot distancing in classrooms and 6-foot distancing in cafeterias. Should vaccinations be allowed for this age group we may change this recommendation to reflect the same guidance offered for the high school.

In PK-8, mask breaks will continue to be coordinated for students as needed.

Due to the fact the staff and all high school-aged students have had the opportunity to be vaccinated, we could consider eliminating the 6-foot social distancing in the cafeteria, and lift mask requirements throughout the school."

What is happening in other Seacoast communities?

People who have students who attend school in Dover can view the preliminary plan district officials have drafted. Members of the school board will be reviewing it during their August 9 meeting.

District officials will maintain a mask mandate, as well as social distancing protocols in grades Pre-K to 8.

They could eliminate the six-foot social distancing rule in the cafeteria and lift the mask mandate at the high school since all of the students and staff members have had the opportunity to be vaccinated, according to the plan.

That is subject to change, according to School Board Chair Amanda Russell.

"We will use the most up-to-date data available to help guide us in any decision making. Depending on the number of active cases and transmission rates, decisions may change before school starts or throughout the school year. Our goal is to have students in school five days a week and to do so in a way that protects our students and our staff," Russell said via email.

Superintendent William Harbron said they will be looking deeper into this later on in the week. He is on vacation.

"There will be meetings later this week when I return to begin the process of finalizing protocols," Harbron said via email.

The first day of school for students in Dover is Sept. 1, according to their website.

The first public elementary school for children in the state will go back at Maple Street Magnet School in Rochester on Monday and it will be face mask optional.

Superintendent Kyle Repucci said on Tuesday morning that the K-5 school - which was the first to reopen in 2020 with masks - will have children returning to the classrooms on Aug. 9.

There are approximately 115 children at the school.

Repucci said superintendents and child care service providers will be on the call with Chan on Aug. 11 and the school board will meet on Aug. 12 to set the practices moving forward for all Rochester students.

The rest of Rochester's schools will open on Sept. 1, Repucci said.

Repucci asks that as the academic year begins, members of the community remain flexible because there might be times when masks are required.

A draft plan of the guidance can be viewed here. The board made masks optional through a motion on July 8.

If the plan is carried out as is, there will be hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette in place. Disposable surface wipes will be available in every classroom, computer lab, multipurpose room, common area and other identified areas with high traffic.

There will also be a daily self-screener for students, staff and visitors.

People can leave feedback and comment on Rochester's reopening plan here.

In Portsmouth, a parent forum is planned at the high school for Aug. 9 at 6:30 p.m.

School officials posted they will have five full days of in-person learning, they will restore extracurricular activities and they will be monitoring guidance from NH Department of Health and Human Services.

What do state and federal leaders say about this?

District officials and school board members across the region are digesting new federal guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

State officials in New Hampshire are not issuing specific COVID-19 guidelines for the return to classes, instead relying on "universal best practices" and allowing local leaders to make decisions that best fit their community.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills said they will follow the latest recommendations from officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.

Contact Managing News Editor Kimberley Haas at Kimberley.Haas@townsquaremedia.com.

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