LACONIA — The city’s public school students could be returning to in-person class five days a week in just over a month, under a plan being considered by the School Board.

The board voted for schools to continue on a hybrid schedule for the time being, but indicated that it would reconsider the matter at its March 16 meeting. If at that time COVID data and other factors are favorable, it would approve returning to a regular schedule on March 21.

The Laconia School District has been on a hybrid schedule since Nov. 23 when the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise significantly, both statewide and locally. The latest statistics given to the board on Tuesday show that case numbers are declining locally, as well as countywide and statewide.

Assistant Superintendent Amy Hinds said that, since the board had last met on Feb. 2, the number of active COVID cases in Laconia had dropped from 40 to 25, and from 212 to 84 in Belknap County.

The administration had recommended returning to a full-time schedule on April 5, but board members urged that the switch take place sooner.

“If the trends continue we should do it as soon as possible,” board member Joe Cormier said.

Board member Dawn Johnson urged a return to full-time classroom instruction on March 1 when students return from February vacation. Johnson has been strongly critical of the hybrid schedule, saying that the disruption of the normal school schedule has been damaging for students academically and emotionally.

Member Aaron Hayward made the recommendation to make March 21 the target date for resumption of a regular school schedule.

Superintendent Steve Tucker said to return to a regular classroom schedule depended on continuing favorable COVID data, as well as the ability to ensure physical distancing among students and staff, the availability of adequate staff, the number of students or staff in quarantine, and progress of people getting vaccinated.

“We owe it to our parents and kids to get them back,” said board Chairman Heather Lounsbury. “But we have to do it in a cautious and safe way.”

Hinds told the board that latest statistics show minimal transmission of the virus in the schools, meaning there are no or only sporadic cases, with no evidence of transmission within the school itself.

Absenteeism of late has ranged from 3 percent to 16 percent, with the higher percentage being at the high school. But, as in prior meetings, she pointed out that the absenteeism figure for the upper grades is skewed toward the high side because attendance at the high school is taken at each class, while it is taken only once at the lower grades.

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