WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield’s school reopening plan will be finalized in early August, school officials said Thursday.
“We will have a plan submitted, not only to the Department of Education but also shared with our parents and certainly our staff, at least a month before school is going to open,” Superintendent Margaret Dolan said at the school board’s virtual meeting.
Under consideration, Dolan said, are both a hybrid model, which combines in-person and online remote instruction, and a distance learning model, which would be fully remote.
Dolan said a return to fully in-person instruction would be impossible for the district due to space constraints.
“Since the requirements are that we have the six feet of social distancing, we certainly are not bringing all students in every day,” she said.
Dolan said district officials have been working on the reopening plans since the state Department of Education released school reopening guidelines two weeks ago. Since then, the district has reached out to administrators, teachers and nurses for input.
As Dolan explained, the larger community is also playing a part in discussions. The Restart Westfield group, which includes district health officials, board members Kent Diamond and Rob Garrison along with members of the public, will meet on Friday to discuss the plans, she said.
Dolan said the district is also considering surveying parents about potential reopening plans, but will wait until later in the summer in case of any drastic changes in case numbers. Districts that sent surveys earlier in the summer received more support for in-person reopening, Dolan said, whereas districts that sent surveys more recently have seen a decline in this support due to recent case increases.
“As the numbers have gone up, not only in other states but in our state as well, the responses are different,” Dolan said. “That’s the problem with the survey. You almost need the survey right before you’re going to try to launch something, because the perceptions do change.”
Previously, the district asked for feedback from parents on the effectiveness of distance learning, which has been in place in Westfield’s public schools since March.
“At the end of the school year, we asked parents for their feedback,” Dolan said. “Parents were great. They were thoughtful, they talked about what worked in their family and what didn’t, they made suggestions, and that really is helping to inform our work.”
With exactly two months until the new school year is set to begin on September 9, it remains unclear how the phased statewide reopening will impact the number of coronavirus cases.
“Places like New Jersey thought we had this, and now we’re not so sure,” Dolan said.
Dolan added that the state is expected to release additional guidance on reopening schools next week, which may also result in changes to the district’s plans.
Despite these uncertainties, Dolan said, she understands the concerns of parents, who need adequate notice on the district’s plans in order to make childcare arrangements.
“I do understand that that is absolutely a challenge,” Dolan said. “That’s something we are considering as we put this together.”
Health, safety and quality of education remain the district’s top priorities, she said.
“We’re doing the best we can for our students and our staff,” Dolan said. “Making sure they’re safe and well, and also making sure their instruction continues, because that is certainly vital as well.”
Students in Westfield have not attended in-person classes since March 13. In a letter to families, Dolan announced the closure of schools beginning Monday, March 16, following guidance from state officials.
The district then shifted to remote learning for the remainder of the academic year.
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