WESTFIELD, NJ — Mayor Shelley Brindle spent Tuesday night and much of Wednesday reading emails and comments on social media about Westfield’s schools after Tuesday night’s simultaneous town council and board of education meetings, she said in a letter to the town Thursday.

Westfield’s town council and board of education often meet on the same nights and Tuesday's school board session was particularly heated as almost 600 parents turned out virtually to voice their concerns about how the district is rolling out in-person instruction.

“As a parent of a WHS tenth grader, I am personally aware of the toll this pandemic is taking on our students, as is the town council, five of whom also have kids in the public schools,” Brindle said.

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Brindle reminded the public that the mayor and town council do not have oversight of the schools, “but I do remain in regular contact with [Superintendent] Dr. Dolan and members of the BOE,” she wrote.

“On this important matter that concerns so many residents, we are committed to being part of the solution to the extent our jurisdiction allows,” Brindle said. “I have continued to offer whatever support the town can provide to assist, including making available both private and public facilities for additional classroom space if helpful. I have also personally advocated with the Governor’s office to prioritize teacher vaccinations, and will continue to do so.”

“However,” she wrote, “since the board of education operates independently of the town, I am not privy to the complex challenges they face in reopening from an operational standpoint, and therefore I am limited in my ability to offer specific solutions, especially if they are staffing related.”

Brindle said she has full confidence in the regional health department, “the members of which have done an extraordinary and nearly impossible job over the past year facing unprecedented circumstances.”

Regional Health Officer Megan Avallone, who she noted also serves on the executive committee and as past president of the New Jersey Association of County and City Health Officials, speaks frequently with Superintendent Margaret Dolan and the medical staff in the Westfield schools, Brindle said.

“Her input is provided as counsel to each municipality’s school officials, so they are able to ultimately make informed decisions regarding school operations with which they are tasked,” Brindle wrote.

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“In the municipalities that comprise the Westfield Regional Health Department, the school boards have arrived at a variety of solutions, ranging from Fanwood and Roselle Park, who started fully remote and only recently transitioned to hybrid; to Westfield, who has been hybrid from day one; and to Chatham and Summit, who have recently transitioned their elementary students to five half days of instruction — all derived from the same health department data sets and guidance from Megan’s team.

“I point this out to underscore that public health information is just one of many components involved in a complicated situation, and the ultimate decision resides with each superintendent based upon what they believe is in the best interest of their school community.”

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