WESTFIELD – The School Committee voted to delay the start of Phase 2 in person learning to Oct. 19, in order to give the district four more days to complete the scheduling of bus routes and notify parents.
Scheduling has been difficult because state guidelines only allow up to 25 students on buses that can carry 75 when full. The district has also attempted to keep all children in one family on the same weekly cohort, adding another level of complexity.
Another difficulty has been due to families continuing to change their plans from remote to hybrid learning for their students. “I can get 50 of those a day,” said Transportation Director Pamela Kotarski.
Although Kotarski was willing to work around the clock and through the holiday weekend to reach the previous start date for Phase 2 of Oct. 13, she was worried that she would run out of time before all of the pieces were in place and families could be notified.
“At this point, I’m still working at it. I am doing everything possible to make it happen on Oct. 13. It has not been easy at all. I’m going on my 28th year. This has been the most difficult time I’ve had, starting with developing the cohorts and moving forward,” Kotarski said.
School Committee member Diane Mayhew asked Kotarski during the meeting if she would be more comfortable with an Oct. 19 date, if they pushed it back four more days.
School Committee member Heather Sullivan agreed, adding that the smallest change trickles down to transportation. “We want to do things right. It’s a long weekend, what’s four more days. Let’s make sure it’s done right. Sometimes it’s just doing it right,” she said.
“I want to do it right. I feel like time is a constraint,” said Kotarski..
Heather Sullivan said people have been asking why they are waiting so long. “Nobody’s waiting to do anything. There is no wrong or right, It’s just tuck and roll. If you need the extra four days, let’s give you the extra four days. Just like the hybrid (plan), this isn’t going to work right on the first try. Every single person is going to need a small time frame to get it right,” she added.
School Committee member Cindy Sullivan expressed concern about the ramifications of pushing the dates, and the effect on the A and B cohorts. “I don’t know how that would work. I feel like we have to move forward. I’d be happy to help you make calls,” she said.
Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said moving the date wouldn’t necessarily affect the calendar at all, and the A and B weeks would remain the same. He said as far as changes, the district had set the date of Sept. 24 as the deadline, but as they confirm the answers with families with special populations, those answers are changing. “There are a lot of moving parts here which are creating difficulties in the situation for Pam, already difficult because of the limit of 25 kids on a bus,” he said.
“I don’t know if the four days are going to gain anything. I’m concerned about people who have already set up child care,” Cindy Sullivan said.
Kotarski said all of the routes have been completed, but four more days would allow it to come together.
“Parents, please be patient. As far as Oct. 19 – so many people are making changes. They need to stop and give the school department a chance to schedule them the way things need to be,” said School Committee member Ramon Diaz, Jr.
Cindy Sullivan asked if changing the date to Oct. 19 would bump all of the other groups.
Czaporowski said he thought it would be too soon to move to the next phase the following week, according to the original plan developed with Public Health Director Joseph Rouse to allow two weeks in between phases.
Rouse, who had given a green light for the Oct. 13 start date earlier in the meeting, said there is no reason at present to do the skip for the next group. However, Kotarski said she would need more than one week to schedule the next group.
“When we started this, we said we were going to keep everything fluid. I don’t see a problem with moving the end of October into the first week of November. I’m for giving transportation the allotted time they need,” Mayhew said.
“There’s always going to be something that’s not right to start everything. There isn’t going to be a perfect time to get this going. I think the more we put it off, the more challenges we’ll have. I would not be in favor of the two weeks. I think we’re ready to go on the 13th, and a lot of families have been planning that as well,” said School Committee Vice Chair Timothy O’Connor.
The motion to start Phase 2 on Oct. 13 was amended to a start date of Oct. 19. The vote in favor of changing the date was 5 to 2, with O’Connor and Cindy Sullivan voting no. The start date for the next phase will be taken up at the School Committee meeting on Oct. 19.
A second vote to approve the plan to start football practice passed unanimously, with no discussion and a nod from Rouse.
“While I realize some of our families will be frustrated by the one week delay, it will give our transportation department more time to implement a more efficient plan with proper notification to families. Only being able to fill our busses with one third of their normal capacity is making this a far more challenging year than usual,” Czaporowski said.