WESTFIELD, NJ — When students return from Thanksgiving break, they will transition to remote learning for 14 days, the superintendent said Wednesday.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent Margaret Dolan cited an increase in the coronavirus’ spread throughout the community as the reason for schools’ transition to remote learning.

“While it is true that COVID transmission rates in our schools are low, the number of new and active cases in our community continues to rise which, in turn, impacts our schools,” Dolan said. “As we have heard repeatedly from federal, state and local health and government officials, holiday gatherings and travel increase the risk of community spread exponentially.”

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As of Wednesday morning, there were 23 coronavirus cases among Westfield Public School District students or staff and 174 students or staff quarantined, Dolan said.

Mayor Shelley Brindle had reported on Tuesday 18 more Westfield coronavirus cases, but said the number of new cases is anticipated to rise significantly when rapid tests are included in the count — a figure typically reported by the town on Fridays.

Dolan noted that the state Health Department’s latest COVID-19 activity reports placed the region including Westfield at a “High” activity level, with the COVID case rate identified as “very high.”

“We have worked hard to keep our schools open for in-person learning, even as 65% of K-12 students in our county have been completely remote since March,” Dolan said. “We have followed public health guidelines in dealing with COVID exposure on a school-by-school basis, as specific circumstances require.”

An online petition sponsored by the New Jersey Education Association urging the Westfield School District to close schools for in person learning due to COVID-19 had netted 168 supporters as of Wednesday.

“Email Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan today,” the petitions says. “Urge her to implement virtual education in Westfield schools at least until January, reopening for in-person instruction only when the current risk has subsided enough to make that safe.”

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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