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Public comments show split on school re-entry

WESTFIELD – Prior to the School Committee vote Oct. 5 to begin Phase 2 in-person learning on Oct. 19, several letters from the public were read into the record, reflecting a split in the opinions of families.

Joanne and Jason Charland wrote in on behalf of their 12-year-old son with Down syndrome. They said he was struggling with online learning and they feared that the progress he made in school over the last two years may be lost, which was frustrating for him. The Charlands asked that he be considered for in-person learning.

Cindy Fillion said she is a mother of four kids learning remotely, who will not go hybrid until November. She said many families want to know what remote learning will look like, adding that now they have a good rhythm. She said the superintendent promised both synchronous and asynchronous instruction during remote learning.

Lorena Dubois, parent of a Westfield High School senior, said she felt that two weeks between phases is not adequate because the virus takes 14 days for symptoms. “I therefore ask that you seriously consider slowing down the return dates,” she said.

Sergio Bonavita, on the other hand, asked for an end of remote learning to allow children to return to school. He said children under 20 face little risk from the virus, and called forcing 8 or 9 year olds to stare at a screen “borderline criminal.” He asked the committee to spend less time debating, and more time on how to do it, and suggested allowing high risk teachers to teach from home, and lower risk assistants from the classroom. “Some level of risk in life is inevitable,” he said.

Heather Talbot strongly encouraged the School Committee to slow down. “A slow meticulous approach is needed here. Please don’t rush this. No parents know who will be teaching our kids on the remote hybrid plan,” she said.

Also anticipating the remote hybrid plan were Brock and Stacey Nubile, who have a 10th and fifth grader in the schools. They called the remote learning in the spring “abysmal,” but said they have been pleasantly surprised with the remote learning this fall and had no complaints. However, they said they heard the School Committee would be voting on a hybrid plan this week, and they also heard the students would not be receiving any direct instruction. “I hope the information we received was bad, and (that) you will still put the students first,” said the Nubiles.

Laura Harlow, the concerned parent of a first grader, said hers was another family struggling with remote learning. “We’ve got to have a better plan than what is in place. I am at home with my kids, however there are three of them and one of me, causing a lot of stress to them and to me. In order for elementary kids to accomplish what they need to do, they need an adult to be with them all day,” she said, adding, “We have to find a way to send them in full-time. I hope that our kids will be back to school in the second week of October for full-in-person learning.”

After much discussion, the committee on Monday voted to push back the return of Phase 2 student groups to the classroom to Oct. 19 to allow for transportation planning as parents continue to request changes to their child’s learning plan.

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