WESTFIELD – At the May 3 Westfield School Committee meeting, parent and educator Katie Ellis raised a concern during public participation about another unintended consequence of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Ellis said now that school is back in person full-time, students that are being sent home to quarantine due to COVID exposure are no longer getting remote instruction. “These students are being sent home with work, with no live instruction, no live lessons, no live help of any sort. We’ve gone from students being at least able to log in remotely to being completely shut off. To me that’s being denied education,” she said.
Ellis, who said she has been an educator for 22 years, said students in the Westfield Middle School went back to school full-time on April 29, and by the weekend, 30 students were sent home to quarantine due to close contact with a positive case.
Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said during his update later in the meeting that he could not comment because the matter was in negotiations, which continued during an executive session after the School Committee meeting.
When asked after the meeting, he said streaming during quarantine was still in negotiations. He said students in quarantine get work in their Google classroom, but instruction is not required. “We’re really not happy about it. Now that all the students are back, we expect an uptick in cases, not a downturn,” he said.
Another parent, Timothy Stoops, said he had concerns about his three children in the school system this year. “Any discussions going on [about] how long will mask mandates continue? I have concerns about kids sitting in class wearing masks 6, 7, 8 hours a day,” he said.
Czaporowski said in terms of mask wearing, nothing has changed, and the district is still taking direction from the Mass Department of Public Health and the Board of Education. “We do have to follow their lead on this. The students are not vaccinated, that is the reason we were given. We will await further guidance,” he said.
Czaporowski said the same is true of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) with athletics. Athletes still have to wear masks with a 14-foot exception, such as a singles tennis players. He said there is a meeting on May 10, but he doesn’t know if they will update the guidance. “If we didn’t follow MIAA rules, we would have to forfeit games, and wouldn’t be able to play in competition,” he said.
School Committee member Heather Sullivan said students do have mask breaks. “Different teachers and different schools have their own way of doing things. They do make that accommodation. They’re not just sitting in a chair six or seven hours,” she said.
“We’re taking a health problem and creating a new one, (and doing) psychological damage. Who is pushing back here,” Stoops asked.
Czaporowski said during superintendent calls, they are asking for alleviation, and there will be another superintendent call next week in addition to the MIAA meeting May 10.
Cindy Sullivan said the MIAA has also required fans to wear masks. “if fans do not wear them, teams can suffer. I just want people to know it’s not a school committee decision, fans still need to wear them even when they’re outside. Coaches should not be mask police or social distance police,” she said.