WHS temporarily goes remote

Katie Hamilton and Sammy Salz

Empty hallway at WHS (Photo by Shawn McDonald)

On Sep. 16, WHS announced that all staff members and students would be switching to fully-remote instruction until Oct. 1. This decision was made after six WHS students, who were exposed to the virus outside of school and never entered the building, tested positive for COVID-19. According to Westfield Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan, these cases may be linked to one another. An additional 30 students, as well as their siblings, were forced to quarantine at home for two weeks as a result of exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. 

When the shutdown was first announced, many rumors surrounding the nature of the cases circulated throughout the community. This prompted many to question the cause of the shutdown and the facts disclosed by the district. An anonymous WHS parent said, “It seems like there was a lot of misinformation about the reported cases and I’m still not clear on how or why the decision was made. If there were six new cases since school started and those kids attended school, then the right decision was to close school. If all the cases were diagnosed before school started and none of those kids, or kids who were exposed to positive kids, ever attended school, then closing seems like overkill.”

Asfendis explained that every decision made in regards to COVID-19 is in conjunction with the Westfield Regional Board of Health. “Every school in the district is prepared to change its course on a moment’s notice,” said Asfendis. “As you know, we weren’t anticipating closing at all, and then in one day we had to make that decision.”

The news was especially devastating to WHS students, as the majority of students opted to participate in hybrid learning prior to the start of the school year. Senior Katie McHugh said she prefers in-person instruction because she finds it very hard to concentrate at home. “I don’t have a desk in my room so I do my work in my kitchen, but my whole family is getting ready for work and school and walking through the house,” said McHugh. 

In addition to students, teachers at WHS have also struggled to acclimate to this sudden change. The switch to remote learning has altered the original hybrid schedule that was in place at the start of the school year, which has caused a great deal of confusion about what time and what day to be in class. English Teacher Nicole Scimone said, “I am terrified of not being in class when I’m supposed to be. For students [they] have friends who can text [them] and email [them] but for teachers, it’s very high pressure.”   

Empty classroom at WHS (Photo by Shawn McDonald)

Due to these concerns, the WHS administration has been receptive to feedback. “I think what we have found is that we would like to move to just one schedule so whether kids are in-person or at home, the schedule is consistent for all students,” Asfendis said. Asfendis also said that one of the reasons that she believes following the hybrid schedule is most effective is because it gives students a 10-minute transition time between classes, which she believes is a significant benefit.

In the meantime, teachers have been finding ways to adapt to the current learning environment. Biology Teacher Stephen Boyle has been focusing on modifying his lessons to best suit the 70-minute and 40-minute class periods, as well as the 30-minute lab periods in a virtual setting. “Going into the school year, going remote for a time period was a foreseeable possibility,” said Boyle. “As teachers, it is important for us to be flexible. Teaching virtually enables me to record my lessons as screencasts that students can use to review concepts discussed in class. The screencasts also help students who were absent catch up on what they missed.”

Aside from class instruction, another major aspect of student and staff life that has been significantly impacted by the recent shutdown is athletics. Athletic Director Sandra Mamary said this two-week hiatus has wiped out all scrimmages that were originally set to take place before Oct. 1. She also said that team sports are particularly hurt by this dead period since they are not practicing together, and thus are not getting enough time to prepare for games. 

According to Mamary, organized captains’ practices are not permitted during this break, though coaches are still allowed to administer workouts to their teams and coach student-athletes virtually. 

In the event the shutdown is extended, there is a possibility sports would be brought back, but the decision would be out of Mamary’s control. However, student-athletes do have the safeguard of knowing that if WHS is to remain fully-remote for the foreseeable future, athletics will most likely resume. 

Regardless of feelings or opinions about the shutdown, WHS is ready to return to in-person hybrid learning when it is safe to do so. Asfendis said she believes the in-person hybrid schedule is sustainable if the community acts responsibly. “In school we’re masked-up,” Asfendis said. “We’re socially distanced. We’re doing all of those things to try to keep everyone safe, so my hope is that our students in our community are doing the same thing outside of school that we’re asking them to do on the inside of school.”