WESTFIELD – “I’m very excited that teachers have been moved to the front of the line, in particular since the commissioner is expecting teachers to come back fulltime,” said Westfield Public School Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski, referring to the April 5 return date for elementary students proposed by the state last week.
Czaporowski said he was very frustrated with that announcement without accompanying vaccine dates for teachers. “I still worry about the availability, because I know it took effect today, but I’m hearing staff members are going online and can’t find an appointment anywhere,” he said, adding while he’s glad they’re eligible, there is a lot of frustration.
Czaporowski said he hopes that enough doses will be available to teachers so they can take advantage of being moved up in line. He said he was not in favor of school opening without teachers who wanted to get vaccinated being able to do so.
“I recognize President Biden said it was not necessary for reopening schools, but I don’t agree,” he said, adding that Westfield has many veteran staff, many of whom want the vaccine but can’t get it.
On March 1 the Westfield School Committee gave the district permission to apply for a waiver to extend the return date beyond April 5, while also asking that a plan be put in place in case they are denied an extension.
Czaporowski said on Monday that the district is already making plans, including working out the transportation.
One of his concerns has been Abner Gibbs Elementary School, which is over 100 years old, and has classes that can only fit students at three feet apart with half of the school in person at a time.
Czaporowski said he is in preliminary discussions with the Boys & Girls Club to possibly use that site as an overflow for Abner Gibbs’ students. “We are planning to see what we can do. That’s one option, but it’s a work in progress. We’re also going to have to have staff to cover them,” he said.
The superintendent is also meeting with all of the elementary school administrators next week to discuss other hurdles to the April 5 reopening date. He said in some schools, there are now 30 students in a class, with 15 meeting in person each week.
Czaporowski said the district also has 71 out of 480 teachers working remotely for the year. He said some of those teachers are remote due to child care, which may be alleviated if their children’s schools go back in person. However, he said other area towns, including Springfield, are also applying for waivers. Other teachers are remote due to health concerns.
The district has had a remote learning center at the FIrst Congregational Church for the children of staff who had returned to work in person. “We were the only district back,” Czaporowski said.
“We’ll have a clearer picture in the next week or two. The School Committee gave us permission to apply for (a waiver) until everyone who wants a vaccine gets one,” he said. He also said while teachers may be able to get the first shot in the next week or two, the second shot will still be scheduled for three weeks to a month away.