WESTFIELD- Westfield Public Schools Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said the decision to close Westfield’s schools until Jan. 19 stems from one case.
A positive COVID-19 case from one student in Westfield High School triggered 45 students and nine teachers to quarantine or isolate because they were close contacts, a scenario which Czaporowski said will make it difficult to keep schools open if it escalates or repeats itself throughout the winter.
“I don’t think this is a superspreader event, but I want to be cautious,” said Czaporowski Friday morning, adding that the spike in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving leads officials to believe that a similar situation may play out after Christmas and New Year’s Eve. He said that a significant surge in cases after Christmas could cause more individual cases to be detected in schools, which would cause people to have to quarantine, making it exceedingly difficult to keep in-person learning.
“My responsibility is to make sure we protect our students and staff,” said Czaporowski, “I am deeply disappointed that this needed to happen. I know our kids need to be at school.”
He said that there have been some cases in which students were sent to school by their parents even though they knew they were sick.
“I want to emphasize to families that if their child has symptoms, they need to stay home,” said Czaporowski, pointing out that Westfield is one of the last districts locally to have schools consistently open.
“I was at the Middle School and the Highland School on Wednesday. The kids were excited to be back in school,” he said.
On Jan.4, 2021 Health Director Joseph Rouse will provide an update on the situation to the Westfield School Committee. Should the rate of spread recede by that point, schools could return to in-person learning before Jan. 19, though Czaporowski said that is not likely.
Rouse said that Westfield High School was going to remain closed until after Christmas anyway due to the high number of close contacts. He said that, just to be consistent, all schools would be closed so that a Christmas surge does not impact them.
“The worst case scenario is that holiday gatherings cause us to close all schools down with no end in sight,” said Rouse, “We want this to be under control. We want to be able to control how our schools function. We want to do our due diligence to make sure there isn’t going to be an outbreak in schools.”