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Westfield’s plans for the fall semester are taking shape

WESTFIELD – Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski updated the School Committee July 16 about plans being developed by the district’s leadership team and “Back to School” committees for the start of school in the fall. Czaporowski said a draft plan is due to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on July 31, and a final plan on Aug. 10.

Czaporowski said the Board of Health Director Joseph Rouse is not supporting or recommending a full open return to school. He said the committees have taken that to heart. “We as a team are looking at a phased-in approach to next year, similar to how the state is doing a phased-in approach,” he said.

Czaporowski said they are talking about having four phases.

Phase one will entail remote learning for most students, and bringing in students with high needs first, including students in special education and English language learners. Also returning for Phase one will be Career Technical education students at Westfield Technical Academy, where Czaporowski said there is adequate space in the shops. He said it is critical for the freshmen to be in the building for exploratory, when they choose which career technical path they will follow.

Phase two will be a “hybrid model, full force,” Czaporowski said. “We cannot have all of the students back with adequate social distancing,” He said students returning to school can be six feet apart and not wear a mask, or three feet apart and wear a mask. “We still can’t fit everybody at three feet apart. We’re going to see some differences in different schools, according to their size.”

Czaporowski said currently they are thinking of having an A and B Week, or possibly two weeks on and two weeks off, which was suggested by a parent. He said the updated model will be going out to parents and staff the week of July 20. He also said they will work to ensure that all students in one family will be on the same alternating week or weeks.

Susan Dargie, director of curriculum and instruction is currently holding focus groups for teachers on technology and on remote teaching and learning. There are also plans to survey teachers on what type of professional development they need for remote learning. Czaporowski said a focus group with parents is also being planned.

“I am concerned about us coming full in. We know dealing with our union, how much of our staff is over 55 years old. I am very concerned about bringing everybody in to learn,” said School Committee member Heather Sullivan at the meeting.

“That was the same concern Joe Rouse gave us. One of the things spreading the virus is large groups of people. That’s why we’ll be bringing in high needs first,” Czaporowski said, adding that Phase four, which will bring everybody back in, will occur after there is a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

The superintendent said that even when the students return part-time on the hybrid model, parents will still have the option to be remote full-time. He said rather than having students sign up online at another school, Westfield is going to offer a quality remote program.

Czaporowski said the staggered return will affect school lunches as well, and the district is waiting for guidance from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Cindy Sullivan asked who will be making the final decision on the plan.

Czaporowski said the School Committee will vote on approving three options when they submit the plan to DESE. “Our top priority is the safety of our staff and students. I think we have to be pretty confident before we bring everybody back,” he said.

Sullivan said she would like to see teachers come back to the classrooms as much as possible during the hybrid phases, and do some or most of their remote learning from their classrooms. “I do know cities and towns are opening, and opening city halls, I really hope that could be part of what happens, that teachers are able to come into the buildings. I feel they could do that very safely. I think that’s a huge piece of this,” she said, adding that she wasn’t sure if the technology would support that.

“I one hundred percent agree with you. If you’re in your classroom, you’re back in your mode. If they’re going to teach, I one hundred percent agree that they can go in their classrooms,” agreed Heather Sullivan.

Czaporowski said that he met with Information Technology Manager Lenore Bernashe on July 16. “That’s something that we’re going to have to test out. We’re certainly going to kick remote learning up a notch, and it’s going to be graded,” he said.

Cindy Sullivan said she would like to see mandatory attendance of students at required zoom meetings, and more accountability for the kids and for the staff. “I know it’s not easy. I don’t want anyone to get sick, I don’t want to shut down an entire district because somebody gets sick. There are ways to make things happen in a completely different way than in the spring,” she said, with Heather Sullivan adding that the district now has time to plan.

“Last time we didn’t. We’re hearing that people want it to be better,” Czaporowski said, including increasing the time that students spend on remote learning during the day. “Our first guidance from the state was three hours per day; (which was) not included this time,” he added.

School Committee Vice-Chair Tim O’Connor said the School Committee’s first reaction when they talked about getting back to school was getting the kids back in school. “There is concern for teachers, staff, and custodians. It is a complicated problem that we have to face. At the top of (School Committee responsibilities); we have to create a safe environment for everyone concerned. My thought is to take it slow, be smart, be safe. We can learn from other communities with larger facilities that can return some of their challenges. For our district, be smart, be safe, be slow,” he said.

O’Connor added that he had attended a service over the weekend, and it was the first time he had to wear a mask for over an hour. “I struggled,” he said.

Cindy Sullivan asked if anyone on the School Committee who works with children on a regular basis in a building in Westfield could comment on how the kids are doing with the guidelines in place.

“I’ve got to admit, it’s been going extremely well,” said Bo Sullivan, who is the chief advancement officer at the Boys & Girls Club. He said the Club has been averaging 120 kids coming weekly from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., down from the 300 they had been hoping to increase to this summer.

“There is lunch involved, learning involved, as much as we can do of outdoor activity. The kids have been great. Most don’t need to be reminded to put their mask on. They are either fully on or hanging off their ear when six feet apart. They have done really well with it. For lunch, we are walking half the kids at a time to the cafeteria in the Westfield Middle School at six feet apart, 60 kids.”

“We were asking to be licensed for 300 back in January. After March happened, we were limited to 200. We had to pull back. We’re the biggest one in Western Mass right now,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan also said the Club is licensed by the Mass. Dept. of Early Education and Care up to 13 years old. He said before, the older kids could participate as regular club members, but this summer, they were left out. He said they don’t know yet about the program at the end of summer.

Czaporowski repeated that the final plan will be submitted on August 10, and will be posted on the website at He said parents will get it on August 10 or 11. “We hope the turnaround from the state will be quick. I realize we start school August 31,” he said.

“Thank you for all the work you’re doing on this. Crazy, unprecedented times. You guys are swamped, and we appreciate the work you’re doing,” said Ramon Diaz, Jr..

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