By JENNIFER GLACKIN
For The Leader/Times
WESTFIELD – Westfield High School will offer four days a week of in-person learning for the third marking period, Superintendent Margaret Dolan, Ed.D., announced at Tuesday’s Board of Education (BOE) meeting. Parents and students were surveyed on whether or not they would prefer in-person or virtual learning, and only 25 percent of the student body chose in-person. Because of the small numbers, Dr. Dolan said, it is possible for all students from cohorts A and B who want to, to attend in person four days per week for half-days. All students will be able to sit six feet apart, as per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
In contrast, 75 to 80 percent of the elementary and middle school students’ parents chose in person, said Dr. Dolan, so those students will remain on the current cohort schedule. Classrooms are not large enough to accommodate the required six feet distance among students. Opening the schools for more in-person days can “only happen when the numbers work,” said Dr. Dolan, continuing to state that she will “absolutely” open the schools if the numbers work.
Parents called in with concerns about the lack of in-person learning for younger students, asking if the board had reexamined other possibilities, such as half-day a.m./p.m. cohorts, that were initially dismissed during summer planning. That plan was originally dismissed as a viable option because deep cleaning of each classroom would take too much time in between sessions, said Dr. Dolan.
Another parent suggestion was to keep students in cohorts but offer full-day, in-person learning for their in-person, rather than the half-day in-person hybrid. Dr. Dolan said the health department has advised that eating with others is a “high -risk activity,” which makes lunch time planning difficult. Another suggested solution, sending students home for lunch and then back to school in the afternoons, will not work for many families, said Dr. Dolan.
“I hear your frustration as parents,” said board president Amy Root. Ms. Root also stated that the current model is under “constant reassessment.”
Dr. Dolan said that “I don’t minimize how hard it is” for children and parents to continue learning this way after doing it for a long time and that the teachers and the administrators “are trying to find the opportunities we can.”
The board also addressed January 21’s school closure and subsequent remote day. A pinhole-sized hole in a pipe of the server room air conditioner caused a slow leak of coolant, eventually overheating and shutting down the newly installed unit and the district servers. The issue did not cause the district to lose any data, said Chief Technology Officer Brian Auker.
Mr. Auker said this seemed to be “a fluke,” as the equipment came from a reputable manufacturer and installer. The leak began overnight and sent email alerts to Mr. Auker and his team, but the alerts were initially missed because the incident happened at 1 a.m. There are now safeguards in place to ensure alerts will be received any time of the day.
The board approved a $2.1 million transfer from capital reserve to pay for four upcoming projects. The projects include toilet renovations at Washington Elementary School and Jefferson Elementary School (JES), JES exterior doors, JES Rooms A and B renovations, and Roosevelt Intermediate School Room 500 renovations.
There will be a special BOE meeting on Thursday, February 4 at 7 p.m. to hire consultants to aid in the search for a new superintendent. The next regular meeting of the BOE will be on Tuesday February, 23 at 7 p.m. Both meetings will be held virtually.
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