School Committee Meeting addresses coronavirus matters


Mahi Kandage

Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery discusses coronavirus updates at the School Committee Meeting.

Mahi Kandage, Editor-in-Chief

In light of the recent spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) across the world, the School Committee Meeting met on Monday March 9 to address concerns regarding the impacts of the disease in Westford. In the absence of Superintendent Bill Olsen, Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery gave a statement and answered questions about the situation.

Olsen and Clery, along with the town and school system, continue to receive guidance from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (M.A.S.S.) as the situation evolves daily. 

To follow state guidelines, Westford Academy will cancel this year’s international field trips. The summer trips, like the German exchange, are also canceled as of now, but the school plans to wait as long as possible to make a definitive decision. They are looking to reimburse students, but cannot guarantee a refund, as the trips are coordinated by external companies.

WA Spanish teacher Stephanie Devlin has meetings scheduled in order to discuss options about the Spanish Exchange. Students who purchased full insurance for the trip could receive up to a 75% reimbursement, but those who did not would receive no money back. Though Devlin looks to reschedule the trip for next year, WA’s four senior members of the exchange and Spain’s seven make it a difficult task.

“There [are] some really disappointed students and parents,” Devlin said.

However, as of now, domestic trips will continue as scheduled. These include the international DECA competition in Nashville, TN, and the senior class Disney trip. Regular school and extracurricular activities and events will also be held as scheduled.

“We want to balance being careful as possible without causing additional unnecessary panic,” Clery said. 

School Committee member Alicia Mallon posed a question regarding MCAS, and whether or not coronavirus would impact the testing. Though recommendations have been made to potentially front load MCAS testing, at this point, the schools are not looking to make any changes.

According to Clery’s statement, all students must be educated, according to the law, in one form or another. So far, two families have chosen not to send their children to school as a precautionary measure against coronavirus. Though families have the right to do so, the schools do not recommend this method, and they have requested the families to withdraw their students and complete a home-school application form. Precautionary absences due to coronavirus will be treated as typical absences from school and require students to make up work they miss. If students are quarantined, the schools will work with them on an individual basis.

“We are in constant consultations with the health organizations,” Clery said. 

As of March 6, 2020, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (D.E.S.E.) 180-day school year requirement remains in effect. However, the requirement would be reviewed if schools were closed for an extended period of time.

“All days lost to health, weather, or safety emergencies between April 1 and June 1 must be made up to ensure a 180-day school year or until the district has reached its previously-scheduled 185th day, whichever comes first. If all five snow days have been used prior to this point, the district is not required to scheduled additional school days,” a post by D.E.S.E. said.

Further, districts need not make up any days missed following June 1.

Meanwhile, the schools have strategies in place to combat the virus. Olsen and town facilities manager Paul Fox have been collaborating with custodians on disinfection protocols. According to Clery, the current disinfectant WPS uses, and has been using, effectively kills coronavirus. The night custodians have been given two-gallon spray containers to better disinfect surfaces that were previously up to teachers to clean, such as desktops. 

“Sanitizing and disinfecting is the top priority,” Clery said was the message to the custodians.

WPS emphasizes common strategies to avoid illness such as washing hands, avoid touching the face, sneezing and coughing into a tissue rather than into a hand, staying home if sick, and understanding the symptoms of the coronavirus. They also advocate the use of hand sanitizer, which Fox is currently looking into in terms of supply at the schools.

“This is a very fluid situation[…] we want to be ready to go in case there is community transmission,” Clery said.

Olsen encourages parents and members of the community to meet with him to share concerns or if they would like to discuss the virus. He also plans to continue to communicate any updates and new information via email.

“Bill will be communicating any updates or changes along the way,” Clery said.