Hampstead, New Hampshire, is a quintessential small southern New Hampshire town. With a population of 8,500, Hampstead has one elementary school (K-4), one middle school (5-8) and is districted to Pinkerton Academy for high school (along with Auburn, Chester, Derry and Hooksett.)

What makes Hampstead different from its neighboring towns is that our schools are closed for in-person learning, thanks to COVID-19. If you are wondering how many positive cases the sleepy town of Hampstead has, the answer, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, is a resounding zero — and it has been for some time.

Following Gov. Sununu’s school reopening press conference held on July 14, a 50-person ‘task force’ presented the Hampstead School Board with a fully-remote plan they call “Phase 1.” Three of five school board members voted for it.

Parents and taxpayers are still left wondering who exactly was part of this task force. Were members comprised of child psychologists, epidemiologists, pediatricians or anyone with a medical background?

Unfortunately, this information is still unknown — the school board and administration refuse to disclose the task force member names and qualifications. Hampstead’s parents are left in the dark — with the fate of our children’s’ education in the hands of unknown strangers.

Hampstead parents were told that schools would begin the year fully remote in Phase 1, with a reassessment scheduled for October 12 as to whether to move on to Phase 2 — a hybrid model.

There’s little or no concern for working parents struggling to balance their jobs and their families while being forced to oversee their children’s educations. For some families, this is physically impossible.

Meanwhile, teachers appear to be doing their best to keep kids engaged and learning, but the remote curriculum has them working twice as hard to get half the educational results. Students are facing daily connectivity issues as well as distractions from siblings, pets, iPhones and television. These kids are bored and frustrated, and why wouldn’t they be?

Home is supposed to be home, and school is supposed to be school. School-aged children are regressing and losing their love for learning, which is a disaster for their educational futures. Younger children are being shushed and shoved in front of Peppa Pig so they can stay quiet during their older siblings’ Zoom math class.

Parents working outside the home now need outside childcare options such as the YMCA or Boys & Girls Club, both of which have established remote learning programs. These parents now have the privilege of shelling out hundreds of dollars each week so staff members at these organizations can ensure their children are adhering to their remote schedule — all while continuing to pay high taxes to the schools their children no longer attend.

On September 22, school administration finally sent parents a survey regarding their thoughts on remote learning thus far and the possibility of returning to school in-person. Among the questions: “Please rate your overall experience with your students’ engagement with their teacher(s).” and “What do you think your students’ teacher is doing well?”

The problem is that a week earlier, the school also sent out an email requesting parents not to be present during Zoom classes… in their own homes. Parents are being asked to turn their living room into a classroom and to rate the teacher’s performance, while also being told they should not be in the room?

In early September, a similar survey was created by two Hampstead mothers advocating for a return to in-person learning. This voluntary survey was paid for by these two women and was issued to community members via Facebook.

The first survey question was, “If given the choice, would you send your child or children back to school in person right now?” There were 205 survey respondents and more than 74 percent answered this question with a resounding “yes!”

The full results of this survey were sent to the Hampstead School Board, yet there is still no date for Hampstead Central School or Hampstead Middle School to reopen for in-person learning. Our so-called leaders continue to dodge the question and still haven’t revealed the exact criteria that must be met in order to open our schools.

Town sports have resumed, and kids are happy to be active and with their friends on the field. Leaves are starting to change into vibrant reds and oranges here in town. The excitement of Halloween is circling our neighborhoods. And yet, the vast majority of Hampstead parents still cannot shake this overwhelming feeling that their kids are not alright.

It is clear that they won’t be until they are back in the classroom, learning in-person from their beloved teachers. Unfortunately, we still do not know when this will be.

Six long months after the pandemic began, and we are still in the dark.