School boards consider how to use relief funds to help students feel safe

Millions of dollars available to help schools reopen in fall

May 17, 2021


School boards in New Hampshire are weighing how to spend millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funds.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, said there is $350 million in relief funding available to help elementary and secondary schools safely reopen and support students.

Officials with the New Hampshire School Boards Association said those funds are desperately needed.

"It's really the social and emotional wellness of the students into next year," said Travis Thompson, president of the association.

"I do think it's going to be a long road back to feeling safe," said Brenda Willis, of the Derry Cooperative School Board.

Officials in some districts said they're also concerned about learning loss during the pandemic.

"What are we going to do to catch up when your school environment wasn't in an ideal circumstance?" said Shannon Barnes, of the Merrimack School Board.

School officials said it's not just the students who need help.

"Staff feels burnt out from the rigors of the constant shifts and changes," said Ege Cordell, of the Chesterfield School Board.

Officials said there's also a need for more teachers in the state.

"We do not have paraprofessionals. We do not have substitute teachers. We don't have bus drivers," said Barrett Christina, of the New Hampshire School Boards Association.

Other districts are struggling to make necessary improvements to their school's ventilation systems.

"I think some of the feedback that I hear about HVAC funding is that it probably won't be enough to do what older schools really need to have done, so that's something to consider," said Pam McLeod, of the Alton School Board.

In some cases, there is a need to make safety improvements to technology.

"The cyber actors are really taking advantage of the pandemic," McLeod said. "They are focused on schools, and they are trying to exploit those weaknesses."

Shaheen said any school officials who have concerns about the next school year should reach out to her office.

By:  Kristen Carosa
Source: WMUR