High absence rates and upcoming holiday break cause concern for future


Sophia Keang

Students converse with peers in the flag lobby after school as they wait to get picked up by parents.

Sophia Keang, Co-Managing Editor

In the week of Dec. 13-17, WA had high rates of student and faculty absences. Due to student and faculty health confidentiality, it is unknown as to what is causing these abnormal numbers, but it has been a common topic of discussion in WA.

Table shows the amount of full-day absences as well as absences including tardies, early dismissals, etc. for the 12/13-12/17 school week according to attendance records. (Sophia Keang)

Recently, there have been an average of around one to two cases per week at WA since Omicron was first detected in Massachusetts. Possibilities of the high absence rates can come from a variety of illnesses, not just the new Omicron variant.

According to Principal Jim Antonelli, around 80 to 100 students are absent on a daily basis. These absences include full-day absences, tardies, early dismissals, and field trips of students.

As of Dec. 17, Westford currently has 102 active COVID-19 cases. However, WA has only contributed two cases.

Antonelli also is worried that the high absence rates could foreshadow the days following December break. He is uneasy about the possible high rates of close contacts, COVID-19 cases, and additional illnesses floating during the winter season such as the flu as he believes many will be traveling and visiting family for the holidays.

Antonelli highly recommends not only students and faculty of WA but the entirety of Westford’s community to take advantage of the “Test and Stay” protocol.

According to the “Test & Stay” protocol from westfordma.gov the Test & Stay protocol offers multi-day COVID-19 testing for any students who are close contacts. When an asymptomatic student is identified as a close contact due to a student with who they interacted tested positive, the close contact may receive the BinaxNow test each morning in school for a minimum of five consecutive days (seven days total). Results will be received within fifteen minutes and each day the student has a negative test, they may participate in the school day and will remain masked.

“The Test & Stay program has been very effective. Since the program started, 613 separate rapid tests have been performed and only four have resulted in a positive indication of COVID which prohibited those individuals from attending school,” Chew said.

Furthermore, Antonelli says that parents are always notified of COVID-19 cases, including close contacts and positive results through Antonelli’s COVID-19 email updates. Parents can subscribe to these emails here.

Additionally, the recent “6 per table” lunch rule has been a concern for students and faculty. With the spread of the flu on top of worries about the Omicron variant, some students feel uneasy that this will lead to a significant number of cases and close contacts for both viruses.

“I think people aren’t taking the Omicron variant any more seriously than the regular ongoing COVID precautions. I don’t really anticipate a shutdown like in 2020. I wish admin would open up more seating options for lunch though, and since the weather makes outside unavailable, maybe the bleachers in the main gym or something could be a possibility,” senior Alpana Bakshi said. 

However, Superintendent Christopher Chew clarifies that lunch table regulations would be adjusted only if there was an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Moreover, Chew realizes that WA has not been experiencing a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in comparison to earlier in the year.

“There hasn’t been a significant increase in COVID cases at WA. The largest number was back in September and it was not a high number in comparison to other high schools in the county,” Chew said.

While some believe it is unlikely that WA will return to remote or hybrid learning, there is still a possibility. Winchendon’s Murdock High School, located in Winchendon, Massachusetts, has proven this to be true when students and teachers were forced to switch to fully remote classes until Dec. 23 following 50 students testing positive for COVID-19.

Antonelli is keeping track of other high schools in Massachusetts with rising cases in order to prevent an outburst at WA.

As of right now, there is limited information regarding the WA’s future. According to Antonelli, the next three weeks will determine what’s going to happen regarding COVID-19 protocol in terms of lunch seating, remote or hybrid learning, one-way hallways, and mandatory mask breaks throughout the day.

“We’re just going to have to wait and see how the next couple of weeks play out after the break, but we have the playbook ready if it comes time to use it when we start seeing more COVID cases. And hopefully, we don’t have to,” Antonelli said.

*Article updated on Dec. 22 for clarification purposes about the Test & Stay program