WESTFIELD — St. Mary’s High School Principal Matt Collins said on Nov. 18 that the whole campus has switched to remote learning until after Thanksgiving.
He said due to an uptick in cases in Westfield in general, school administrators felt it was in their students and families best interests to implement their remote learning plan. Families were informed on Wednesday afternoon.
“We have a remote learning plan that we reactivated rather than cancelling school. Our number-one priority is the health of our students, staff and families. It was our best bet,” Collins said.
He said students will only have four days of remote learning, because the school closes Tuesday afternoon for the Thanksgiving holiday. St. Mary’s will reopen for in-person learning on Monday, Nov. 29. The remote plan affects the Catholic high school, elementary school and preschool on the Bartlett Street campus in Westfield.
“It was a good time to go remote and offset any spread that might happen,” Collins said.
The closure also meant postponing the high school Drama Club performance of “Clue!,” originally scheduled for Nov. 19 and 20. Collins said the play is not canceled, but will run at a later date.
Collins said he is confident about the COVID-19 rules the schools have in place. Students and staff wear masks, and take mask breaks when they are able to maintain social distancing, according to guidelines. St. Mary’s does not offer COVID testing.
“Last year, we were one of the only schools in the area open the entire year without having to go remote. We were open from day one all the way to the end of the school year,” Collins said, adding, “We are confident in our COVID plan that we’ll be able to continue to do that. We want to be able to do our best to protect our staff, students and families.”
For students who do become ill, some teachers offer students the opportunity to use a Zoom link to attend class by teleconference, or to do the work provided to them in Google classrooms, Collins said.
Stefan Czaporowski, the superintendent of Westfield’s public schools, said he is also looking warily at COVID-19 case rates.
“It is really unfortunate to see the significant increase in COVID cases in the city and in schools,” said Czaporowski. “While St. Mary’s has the ability to pivot to remote learning when cases are on the rise, public schools that are under the auspices of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education still do not,” he added.
As a private school, St. Mary’s does not have to follow a new state rule this year that bans public schools from counting any remote learning days as “time on learning.” Last year, public schools were allowed to adopt a remote or hybrid model during the fall, winter and early spring, and Westfield, like most public school districts, did so.
Public schools have to offer at least 180 days of time on learning. Czaporowski said as of now, any school closures for Westfield public schools have to be made up during vacations or at the end of the school calendar year.
“Because of this, we are going to have to look at limiting outside events in our schools through the holidays, in an effort to keep our schools open. Hopefully, the uptick in positive COVID cases is short-lived,” Czaporowski said.
Collins said he is glad to have the option to temporarily suspend in-person classes at St. Mary’s.
“When DESE came out with that, I was very surprised, because things like this could happen. Being able to offer this to families is important. If you can offer a remote option and be successful, it gives students an opportunity for continuity in learning,” Collins said.
Westfield Public Schools post a count of COVID-19 cases in each school on Mondays the following week, at www.schoolsofwestfield.org.