Earlier today, Governor Sununu issued an order closing all schools immediately through April 3, 2020. NHSBA believes this is a prudent action. The Governor's announcement comes as many school districts have already announced their own closings.
Given these closures, we encourage school boards and school leaders to continue discussions with the primary on keeping everyone safe and secondary discussions about providing educational services.
The NH Department of Education is directing school districts to implement "remote learning" as soon as possible. Districts are expected to initiate and begin remote learning March 23, 2020. Some districts are ready to fully implement remote learning. Other districts will face challenges in implementing remote learning. And many districts are somewhere in between. Given the everchanging nature of this emergency, it's possible additional requirements or regulations may be further modified.
NHDOE information regarding remote learning can be found here:
Comprehensive NHDOE guidance can be found here:
School Board Responsibilities
NHSBA urges school boards to coordinate directly with their superintendent and administrative staff to gauge how, if and when your district may be able to provide remote learning services. Further, conversations should be had relative to all aspects of school operations - closures, access to buildings, school board meetings, providing meals to needy families, and so forth.
Right to Know Law Considerations:
NHSBA encourages school boards to invoke the "emergency meeting" provisions of RSA 91-A:2, II. These provisions state in part:
"Except in an emergency or when there is a meeting of a legislative committee, a notice of the time and place of each such meeting, including a nonpublic session, shall be posted in 2 appropriate places one of which may be the public body's Internet website, if such exists, or shall be printed in a newspaper of general circulation in the city or town at least 24 hours, excluding Sundays and legal holidays, prior to such meetings. An emergency shall mean a situation where immediate undelayed action is deemed to be imperative by the chairman or presiding officer of the public body, who shall post a notice of the time and place of such meeting as soon as practicable, and shall employ whatever further means are reasonably available to inform the public that a meeting is to be held. The minutes of the meeting shall clearly spell out the need for the emergency meeting."
NHSBA believes this provision of the Right to Know law allows school boards to "meet" via electronic means without having a quorum physically present at the meeting location, as would otherwise be required.
NHSBA also encourages school boards to invoke the "emergency meeting" provisions of RSA 91-A:2, III(b)(c) and (e). These provisions state in part:
"(b) Except in an emergency, a quorum of the public body shall be physically present at the location specified in the meeting notice as the location of the meeting. For purposes of this subparagraph, an "emergency" means that immediate action is imperative and the physical presence of a quorum is not reasonably practical within the period of time requiring action. The determination that an emergency exists shall be made by the chairman or presiding officer of the public body, and the facts upon which that determination is based shall be included in the minutes of the meeting."
"(c) Each part of a meeting required to be open to the public shall be audible or otherwise discernable to the public at the location specified in the meeting notice as the location of the meeting. Each member participating electronically or otherwise must be able to simultaneously hear each other and speak to each other during the meeting, and shall be audible or otherwise discernable to the public in attendance at the meeting's location. Any member participating in such fashion shall identify the persons present in the location from which the member is participating. No meeting shall be conducted by electronic mail or any other form of communication that does not permit the public to hear, read, or otherwise discern meeting discussion contemporaneously at the meeting location specified in the meeting notice."
"(e) A member participating in a meeting by the means described in this paragraph is deemed to be present at the meeting for purposes of voting. All votes taken during such a meeting shall be by roll call vote."
NHSBA has received some inquiries asking if school boards have the authority to prohibit or limit the public's attendance at board meetings, in an effort to limit public gatherings. The answer is no. If a board is holding a "regular" meeting and has posted regular notice, the public has a right to attend. If your board has live-streaming capabilities, it may want to respectfully ask the public to not attend and instead watch the stream.
There remain many challenges our schools will be facing in the coming months - special education services, hourly-wage employees, providing meals to needy families, and so forth. While these challenges are felt state-wide, most solutions will have to be addressed on a local, district-by-district basis. NHSBA will continue to distribute recommendations, best practices, policy considerations and other information it develops.
Thank you all for your diligent work in serving our students.