WHS shuts down… again

The front entrance at WHS (Photo by Jacob Wendler)

On Nov. 7 Superintendent Margaret Dolan sent an email to WHS families informing them that WHS will have all-remote instruction until Nov. 30, which extends through Thanksgiving. All in-person extracurriculars have also been canceled during the shutdown. 

According to Principal Mary Asfendis, the decision to shutdown in-person learning is made by the superintendent based on recommendations from the Department of Health. There is no specific number of cases that will result in a shut-down of in-personing learning, but Asfendis said that if the cases are related to one another it will increase the likelihood of a shutdown. 

It has been reported that there are 23 WHS students, and counting, who have tested positive for COVID-19. Due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the school is unable to disclose private information about the individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, but they can share the number of cases in the community. 

In her email, Dolan shared information with the WHS community about the importance of following social-distancing and quarantine protocols in order to reopen the school on Nov. 30. “This is larger than a single student or family. When individuals choose not to adhere to COVID protocols, it threatens in-person instruction, state athletic competitions, and the overall health and safety of others,” Dolan wrote. “I cannot reopen [WHS] unless and until we all work together to bring the number of COVID cases and exposures down.”

The shutdown also means the end of the sports season for fall athletic teams, a decision that has frustrated both coaches and athletes. In particular, the WHS girls and boys soccer teams were disappointed that they would not be able to play in their upcoming county final games.

Assistant Varsity Girls Soccer Coach Katie Werthheimer said, “There is no question that the health and safety of the community is the top priority. The situation for the athletes is difficult and, in the case of the Varsity Girls Soccer team, the timing was unfortunate. To win a County semifinal game, after returning from our second quarantine, only to find out, less than an hour afterward, that we were shut down again and unable to complete the season was devastating to the players.” 

Likewise, Varsity Football Coach Jim Desarno said, “I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. I’m sad for our players and their families. We preach that you only get the opportunity to be a high school football player once so no regrets. This year that’s not fair because they have no control over the circumstances.”

Senior athletes seem to be particularly upset by the shutdown and an early end to their final fall season. Senior Cheerleading Captain Emma Cuillo said, “As a senior, I am incredibly upset by the decision to shut down sports. [Seniors] are all feeling the effects of having their last games with their teams taken away from them.”

Not only are athletes and coaches upset about the end of their season, but many are questioning the decision made by Dolan to cancel sports. Senior Varsity Girls Soccer goalie Sara Perlin called the decision “disgusting” and pointed out that the team had gone all virtual and quarantined outside of practice to avoid this situation.

I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. I’m sad for our players and their families.

— Head Football Coach and Assistant Principal Jim DeSarno

Girls Varsity Cross Country runner Emily Disarno said, “I believe that the administration should have taken a closer look at each individual team, as many of them have been following the proper protocols and COVID-19 guidelines in order to keep their teammates and classmates safe.”

Senior Varsity Soccer Captain Jack Kelesoglu said, “I understand the need to have an immediate reaction to these things. 23 cases is a lot, and that’s not something that should be taken lightly. However, I think we need to think these decisions through a little more and understand that we haven’t even been in school.” Athletes were especially aggravated because some believed that none of the new cases were fall athletes. However, according to Mayor Brindle’s Nov. 6 COVID-19 update email, three of the new cases were fall athletes. 

WHS parent Kathleen Kronick went as far as to suggest alternatives to canceling the remainder of the fall season, while still keeping players and the community safe. She said, “[The school] could have easily required testing and multiple tests, if needed, of each of [the] athletes in order to compete. They knew the new cases were not fall athletes, so be creative, work with each team and let them finish their seasons.”

However, some athletes agree with the decision to shut down athletics. Senior Cross Country Captain William Fiorentino said, “I know that the decision was made in our best interest, to protect the athletes and everyone in Westfield. I hope that we can become more successful in preventing outbreaks so that winter sports are able to remain.”

In response to public reactions to the shutdown of sports, Dolan sent a follow-up email to the WHS community on Nov. 9 where she acknowledged the athletes’ frustration and disappointment with the shutdown but stood by her decision to cancel all sports. In the email, Dolan wrote, “This is not just about one segment of the high school population; it is for the health and safety of our entire school community.”

Regardless of how people feel about the shutdown, Dolan’s decision is here to stay. In order to prevent another shutdown from occurring in the future and ensuring that in-person learning, extracurriculars and sports resume on Nov. 30, Ms. Asfendis has a message: “Continue to follow the safety protocols such as masking, keeping distance and washing hands.  If you do come into contact, follow the directives of the medical professionals and quarantine yourself for the required 14 days.”