Westfield Public Schools takes new DESE guidance under consideration

Westfield Public Schools Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said the plan for going back to school in the fall, based on the new guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released on June 25, is going to take time to formulate.

“It’s going to take time and patience. Don’t speculate or listen to rumors. We’re going to share it as soon as we have it. We hope to have a draft to share with the community by the middle of July,” the superintendent said.

Czaporowski said over the next few weeks, the district’s leadership team and “Back to School” committees will be reviewing the guidance to begin to understand how it impacts what can be done in Westfield. He said initial guidelines do not address every topic and that there will be additional guidance coming throughout the summer.
Czaporowski said there are four key takeaways in the plan: The first being that current medical research supports a safe in-person return to school – with preventive measures in place – as infection and transmission rates are lower for children than adults.
The preventive measures include masks/face coverings, physical distancing, handwashing, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces.
Masks/face coverings will be required for all students in Grade 2 and above and for all adults; they are recommended for students in Grade 1 and below.
Czaporowski said the district has ordered physical protective equipment (PPE) for the schools intended to last through December, although he said “We don’t know if it will be enough. If we continue this way, we’re going to have to purchase more,” he said.
Another key component of the plan is the guidance that, based upon current medical research, and in conjunction with other preventive measures, a minimum physical distance of three feet has been established.
Czaporowski said the newer schools in the district may have classrooms large enough to accommodate the social distance, while older schools may not.

“The Commissioner has asked us to do a field test with how many students can fit in a classroom with a distance of 3 feet. Westfield Middle School may be able to operate as normal, while Abner Gibbs will be a concern. All that is yet to be determined, now that we have this guidance to consider,” he said.

Czaporowski said that Westfield Public Schools will need to develop three separate plans; one for return to full in-person instruction with safety requirements, one for full remote learning, and one for hybrid learning that combines in-person and remote learning. “Based upon the current medical situation, the expectation today is that students will return to full in-person instruction on August 31; however, that is subject to change based upon how the medical situation develops.”

Czaporowski said the recent survey that the district sent to parents and students will also help them to design their plans. The survey asked about the remote learning experience and other questions about returning to school, including whether students would be taking the bus. The district received 2,674 responses from students and 1,187 as of the second to the last day from families.

“We certainly appreciate all the feedback we have received,” he said.

Transportation is one area that was not addressed in the June 25 guidance. Czaporowski said if the recommendation is only one child per seat, then the district will have to double their busing. “That’s why we asked about busing. Some parents won’t want their kids on a bus,” he said.

Also included in the guidance was the announcement that there will be more funds available to districts to make the arrangements for the return to school. The state will release another $200 million to help districts to prepare for the return to school, such as training for school staff, supplemental social and academic services, reconfiguration of school spaces, leasing of temporary facilities, and acquisition of health and hygiene supplies.

The federal government has donated $25 million statewide for a matching grant program for technology. Czaporowski said they still have money in their technology line item, although that amount was cut, that will now be doubled with the grant.

Czaporowski said the state also urged communities to level fund the schools.

“We applaud the level of thought and care that went into the development of this guidance, and share its goal of the safe return of as many students as possible to in-person school settings to best meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of our students,” Czaporowski said.

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