U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, center, listens Tuesday as Laconia School Superintendent Steve Tucker talks about additional expenses to the city's public school system because of the coronavirus pandemic. Pappas visited Pleasant Street School to discuss the impact COVID has had on schools and students. Listening at right is School Board Chairwoman Heather Lounsbury. (Michael Mortensen/The Laconia Daily Sun photo)

LACONIA — Federal grants from the latest COVID relief package are critical to the Laconia School District as it deals with the ongoing additional costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials told U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas on Tuesday.

The 1st District congressman spent an hour Tuesday morning at Pleasant Street School to meet with a small group of school administrators and faculty. Mayor Andrew Hosmer, School Board Chairwoman Heather Lounsbury, and Police Chief Matt Canfield also sat in on the session held in the school library.

The Laconia school system is in line to receive several million dollars in additional aid through the latest COVID relief package. The exact amount, however, remains unknown.

Pappas said the district could expect to receive an estimated $6.1 million, based on data provided by the U.S. Department of Education. But Superintendent Steve Tucker said the district has been told it could get approximately $9 million, based on information from state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut.

Using the U.S. Department of Education analysis, the Gilford School District could expect to receive an estimated $1.8 million, Inter-Lakes School District, $1.9 million; and Shaker Regional School District, $2 million.

Tucker said the district had used funding from the original COVID relief package passed in March to help cover the cost of additional cleaning requirements, to purchase additional technology equipment, to help set up the district’s remote-learning division, and to pay for programs and services to give additional support to students and teachers.

The superintendent said that, in addition to helping to defray the cost of those same kind of expenses, forthcoming federal money could be used to upgrade the ventilation system at Laconia High School, areas of which are 90 years old.

Hosmer was pleased that local governments will have considerable flexibility in how they choose to use the money.

But officials also told Pappas that schools had been able to accomplish a great deal educationally despite the problems posed by the pandemic.

Pleasant Street Principal David Levesque pointed to attendance, which has averaged around 90 percent as a sign that even during the long stretches of remote learning most students have been doing their best to keep up with their studies.

“It tells me they want to be engaged,” he said.

The resumption of full-time, in-school instruction has been a big step forward, the principal added.

“We’re getting back to where we were,” he said.

Second-grade teacher Carmelle Ryan told Pappas that hybrid education had helped students make the transition from remote learning to returning to the classroom full-time.

Ryan and Hosmer expressed concern over the long-term effects of the COVID crisis will have on the emotional well-being of students and adults alike.

“We worry about the social-emotional (impact) all the time,” Ryan said.

“We need to have the capacity to care for our kids,” Hosmer said, noting that the costs to provide that support will be expenses that communities have to bear as time goes on.

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