Westfield Schools Announce Preliminary Reopening Plan

By JENNIFER GLACKIN
Specially Written for The Leader/Times

WESTFIELD — “The entire concept of school and the school day has changed,” said Superintendent Margaret Dolan, Ed.D. during Monday’s virtual board of education meeting, referring to the district’s “Restart and Recovery Plan” for September. “Health and safety” was the top guiding principle, according to Dr. Dolan, for creating a hybrid model.

Within this model, all students will attend in-person school on alternating days. Each school day will feature a modified half-day schedule with no lunch. All staff and in-person students will wear masks. Temperatures will be taken upon arrival and daily questionnaires will need to be filled out.

Intermediate- and high-school students will attend on alternating schedules. The two groups, or cohorts as they are being called, will be split into an A and B group. Cohort A will attend school on Mondays and Thursdays; B will attend on Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be a virtual day for all intermediate- and high-school students. Crystal Marsh, assistant principal of Edison Intermediate School, and Mary Asfendis, Westfield High School principal, gave more details on how their school days will work.

There will be less classes each day to minimize movement through the building and bell schedules will be staggered to reduce the number of students in the hall during transitions. Ms. Marsh said intermediate students will have four and a half periods a day. Mondays and Tuesdays will be for periods 1 to 4 and half of period five. Virtual Wednesdays will run on a typical half-day schedule with 25-minute virtual periods for all nine classes. Thursdays and Fridays will be for periods 6 to 9 and the other half of fifth period. Ms. Asfendis said the high school will have periods 1 to 4 on Mondays and Tuesdays, and 5 to 8 on Thursdays and Fridays. She also said science labs will be conducted in person and have an extra class in the afternoons once a week.

Students will keep all of their supplies in their backpacks, rather than lockers. This safety measure decreases the number of items in the school being touched and reduces congregating in the hallways. It also ensures that students have all of their supplies at home each night should the state enact distance learning again.

Preschool through fifth-grade students also will be grouped into two cohorts and attend on the same Monday/Thursday and Tuesday/Friday schedule. However, staff and parents indicated that virtual learning was more difficult for the younger students, so the two groups will alternate in-person attendance on Wednesdays. All specialist teachers will push-in to the classroom to reduce student movement through the halls. Classrooms that used tables for students now have desks in order to comply with social distancing, according to Susie Hung, Ed.D., principal of Jefferson Elementary School.

According to the plan on the website, students with “significant disabilities” will attend school five days per week, as their class sizes are smaller.

Attendance is mandatory for all students each day. At-home students are expected to log-in with video for a live stream of the lessons. Details of the live stream are being developed, as privacy of students is a concern. Teachers have already begun live stream trials.

Parents may choose the hybrid model or an all-virtual plan for their child(ren). Families with multiple children will be able to choose whether their children are in the same cohort or not, in order to best accommodate that family’s schedule. Dr. Dolan acknowledged that family schedules may change, and the district will try to be flexible if families wish to change models. Switching from the hybrid to the virtual plan can be done within a few days. However, if parents want to move to the hybrid model, the superintendent said the district would need approximately two weeks lead time. “If you want to come back, that’s fine. We’d love to have you,” she said.

Brian Auker, the district’s chief technology officer, said each student in grades 1 through 5 will be issued a Chromebook. The district ordered 1,000 additional laptops for students, some of which are replacements for outdated technology. Mr. Auker said the order has been delayed and is expected to arrive the first week of school. Westfield High School students will start the year with a “Bring Your Own Device” program and will be issued the new computers when the order arrives.

Over 240 questions were asked through the question-and-answer feature of the meeting. While many of these were addressed, the district will review all and put up a Frequently Asked Questions page on its website. The website also has the full “Restart and Recovery Plan” document for the public to read. Parents and community members also should use the website for updates as the situation unfolds in the coming weeks.

The district is making “the best decisions possible in an impossible situation,” said Dr. Dolan.

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