WESTFIELD – Westfield Public Schools Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski presented to the School Committee on Sept. 8 tentative dates for the hybrid model phases to have different groups of students return for in-person learning .
“Clearly, what we didn’t do at the last meeting is set dates, and I’ve been asked that question more than any other,” Czaporowski said. He said he ran the dates by Public Health Director Joseph Rouse, who was also present at the meeting on teleconference. “Our (COVID) numbers right now are incredibly low, they’ve been low for some time,” he added.
Czaporowski said that the dates for phasing in more students for in-person learning are roughly every two weeks, and follow a School Committee meeting week. As it stands now, all but tech shop students at Westfield Technical Academy will start remotely on the first day of school, Sept. 14.
Sept. 14 start date. Grades 1-12 start remote learning
Tech students start shops in person (Week A – freshmen and seniors, Week B – sophomores and juniors)
Sept. 21 remote learning start date for preschool and kindergarten.
Sept. 28 in person start date.
Special Education – Autism Spectrum Disorder, Essential Life Skills, Developmental Learning Program, Transition Program (sub-separate programs) and Preschool will return to school (in person) every day.
Oct. 13 in -erson start date
Special Education – RISE, LLD, Quest, Homeless/McKinney Vento, and English Language Learners will return every day.
Grades Kindergarten, 1, 5, 7, 9 will return to school (in person) every other week (A & B Week)
Oct. 26 start date
All students in grades 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12 will return to school (in person) every other week (A & B Week)
Implemented when a vaccine is developed.
All students return to in-person learning
Committee member Cindy Sullivan clarified that for WTA, the students will not return for academics until Phase 4 except for students in Essential Life Skills, who will begin in person on Sept. 28.
“If we were able to go forward with the changes, we could always pull back,” said member Diane Mayhew.
“We could, and families could always adjust their choice,” Czaporowski said, although he said one of the reasons that the class schedules are late is due to the late notice from families on what they are going to do.
“We are working around the clock. We had 140 new enrollees in the past week and a half, and 60 people changed their options today (Tuesday), which wreaks havoc on transportation. Every change that comes in throws us off. I know we have to work within that, but it is very challenging for us,” Czaporowski said, adding that class schedules will be out by the end of the week. “We know there are going to be errors, and changes will come in after that.”
Committee member Ramon Diaz asked Rouse how he feels about this phased-in approach.
“It’s a good viable plan right now, as far as I’m concerned, with the phasing in. Smaller numbers to begin with are perfectly acceptable. Right now is that pivotal time, and we can’t rely on anything until we get through the next two to three weeks. The numbers are extremely low right now,” Rouse said.
Rouse said people are coming back from vacations now, and some other schools, including St. Mary’s have opened. “We’ll see how other schools are doing once they have opened. It doesn’t worry me as much now as it did a month ago. Let’s hope that everything sticks as it is now,” he said, adding that the fact that school is starting with remote learning, as is Westfield State University, means the community is in a good spot to maintain.
Diaz said he didn’t think the School Committee should approve the dates of all the phased-in learning until they get closer. “I’m anxious to hear from Joe at every step,” Diaz said.
Rouse said the Board of Health is not just looking at Westfield, but meets twice a week to look at metrics for the whole region and state, and surrounding states as well. He said he would definitely update the School Committee every meeting.
Czaporowski said the district will remain flexible based on the information they receive at each School Committee meeting. “My concern is that parents and principals and (Transportation Director Pamela Kotarski) need the information,” he said.
Committee member Bo Sullivan asked why not bring back all of the special education groups together, and the kindergarteners along with the preschool.
Czaporowski said the first groups of special education students returning are in subset programs that don’t rely on peer learning. The second groups are part of the inclusion model, and go into regular education classrooms.
“In terms of kindergarten, as much as we wanted to bring the kindergarten in every day, we can’t meet the space requirement,” he added.
Vice chair Timothy O’Connor said it was his understanding that WSU students are planning to come back on campus at the end of September and asked Rouse if he had any concern on having that population in that setting,
“As far as the university goes, they’re on the same page starting with remote,” Rouse said, adding that students are being closely monitored on campus, with testing, checkpoints and criteria. “The campus doesn’t concern me as much as being ingrained in the community; the students that are here. They are still here off campus doing business in Westfield. We’re keeping an eye on that, too – keeping them accountable,” he added.
O’Connor also asked if the schools were waiting on anything they needed in terms of supplies and preparedness for opening up.
Safety officer Chrisropher Rogers said the schools are in very good shape as far as personal protective equipment, except for a few things that have not arrived,”nothing that would stop us from getting going,” he said.
The only big ticket items they are still waiting for are plexi-glass dividers for teacher tables, counselors, and service providers, and large size disposable gloves, which are all ordered.
Cindy Sullivan asked if any of the positive cases have been from open day care programs, or the other operating youth programs such as the Boys & Girls Club, Babe Ruth or the soccer leagues.
Rouse said there are currently two active cases in isolation, and they have two additional cases from the Labor Day weekend, all older adults.
Sullivan commented that Rouse’s initial recommendation was to wait until the end of 2020 for in person learning. “When we approved the hybrid model, we were really clear that we were going to not wait until the end of 2020,” she said, adding that she was in favor of announcing the dates for the phases so people can plan, knowing that at the School Committee meetings they “could put the brakes on,” if needed.
Czaporowski said if more cases develop, the school could hold off on the phases for a couple of weeks. “These are subject to change,” he said.