District Physician Implores Community to Mitigate Spread

By JENNIFER GLACKIN
Specially Written for The Leader/Times

WESTFIELD — Dr. Susan Kaye, the Westfield Public School district’s physician, spoke about mitigating the spread of Covid-19 at the Westfield Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Tuesday evening.

“The decision to close schools and extracurricular activities are not taken lightly,” said Dr. Kaye, but they are made to protect the community.

As a member of the Westfield community, Dr. Kaye said she has witnessed groups of adults and children walking around unmasked and not socially distancing. The virus, she said, is being spread through small group gatherings like these.

Wearing a mask, socially distancing, and washing hands frequently are the mitigation techniques that work, she said. “I know we all want to get our kids back in school and back into extracurricular activities,” Dr. Kaye continued. “The way we do that is by following these techniques.”

Dr. Kaye also said the state is poised for an “exponential increase” in positive cases and hospitalizations.

Mary Wickens suggested the board reconsider moving all schools to remote learning throughout the holiday season, especially based on Dr. Kaye’s presentation. Ms. Wickens asked the board to provide a dashboard on the district website with up-to-date Covid-19 information so there is easily-accessible and accurate information available to the community.

Mark Friedberg, parent of a Westfield High School athlete, asked the board to look into more creative approaches to continuing high-school sports during remote learning, citing the recent shutdowns of the fall season. “Suspension has penalized everyone for the failure of a few,” he said, noting there were no Covid-19-positive cases among any of the varsity teams. Mr. Friedberg said other towns have shut down individual sports based on Covid-19-positive cases while allowing other unaffected teams to continue their seasons.

Board President Peggy Oster said the board and Superintendent Margaret Dolan, Ed.D., have listened and will continue to listen to the public’s suggestions and take them under advisement.

Dr. Dolan presented the results of the district’s anti-bullying self-assessment for the 2019-2020 school year. A perfect score is a 78, which would mean each school exceeded the requirements, said Dr. Dolan. This year, the schools’ scores ranged from 63 to 75 points, with many schools dropping a few points. Dr. Dolan said that some of the programs and assemblies that were planned for the spring had to be cancelled due to the switch to remote learning in March, which accounted for some of the lower scores.

Board member Michael Bielen updated the board about the Edison Intermediate School field project. The project, which is spearheaded by the town with the support of the BOE, is a feasibility study to see if the field may be used for other purposes.

Mr. Bielen said the project is in a preliminary phase, noting that no legal agreements, budgets or future plans have been proposed. “Until we know what the environmental impact is, what the overall cost of the program is, that will determine if the town moves forward with this or not,” said Mr. Bielen, adding that there is still “a long road ahead.”

The board approved a state grant of $355,000 that will go toward the purchase of security upgrades and enhancements at all district schools.

The board also approved $15,100 to be moved from capital reserve to do smaller renovations, such as classroom and bathroom renovations at Jefferson Elementary, Washington Elementary and Roosevelt Intermediate.

The next meeting of the Westfield BOE will be on Tuesday, December 8. The date and location will be announced at a later date. It will be the last meeting of 2020.

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