Three main takeaways from the 1/18 school committee meeting


Provided by Westford Cat

The school committee discussed the possibility of declaring Diwali as a holiday, the presentation from the WEA, and a COVID update at the Jan. 18th meeting.

Shreya Voruganti, News Editor

The WPS School Committee discussed a potential district-wide holiday on Diwali, more positions for staff at WPS, and COVID-19 testing at their meeting on Jan. 18. at the Millenium Conference Building.

I. District-wide Diwali holiday proposal

Sophomore Natalie Strauss and junior Spoorti Tadakamalla presented to the school committee the idea to have a holiday for Diwali. Strauss and Tadakamalla suggested removing one day from either February or spring break and using that day to give a holiday on the third day of Diwali.

Diwali is the Hindu celebration of the triumph of light over dark, and it is one of the only cultural celebrations that is celebrated by many of South Asians, specifically Indian, descent, regardless of religion.

However, the date of the Indian festival is calculated by the lunar calendar, which means the date shifts every year. Diwali usually falls on a school day, causing students to take excused absences. The pair’s main argument was that although excused absences are allowed for religious reasons, students are required to make up the work they missed that day, which might cause the student to have to do some work during the day of the absence.

“I know we have exemptions from tests, quizzes, and homework [on Diwali], but I personally had two tests on Diwali and I had a presentation the day after. […] I do feel comfortable telling my teachers to push it off, but it’s a little hard to keep pushing it off like that with so many things due,” Tadakamalla said.

Strauss and Tadakamalla’s idea is to shorten one of the breaks by one day and use that day to give a school holiday on the third day of Diwali, or the only day of Diwali for some cultures, sometime in quarter one. This relieves stress about having to make up that work.

“I just think that if we can [have a break] for Christmas and other holidays, it’s not impossible to do it for Diwali as well,” Strauss said.

Superintendent Christopher Chew expressed agreement towards the proposal, and also mentioned that there are other solutions to add that holiday, such as lengthening the whole school year by one day in order to cover the newly added holiday.

The calendar subcommittee will be discussing this proposal in the following months, and deciding upon a plan of action.

II. WEA presentation about budget cuts

Day School fourth-grade teacher Kristine Jussaume and WA guidance counselor Heidi Hider presented findings from a survey about what teachers are noticing in classes as the students readjust to complete in-person learning. In light of these concerns, they requested the salary be brought up for teaching assistants, and for multiple positions to be created or brought back.

The results of the survey that Jussaume and Hider organized were presented at the meeting. At the high school level, there were many changes that the teachers noticed, such as struggles with abstract thinking and writing skills, worsened mental health, lower physical stamina, and the need for frequent extensions. The main takeaway of the survey was that, across the board, teachers have noticed an increase in stress levels within students.

Because of these concerns, Jussaume requested that no teachers be cut so that class sizes remain smaller, which can allow teachers to better address the needs of their students.

On top of that, Jussaume and Hider requested for some positions at schools to be brought back. Specifically, regarding the high school level. Hider requested that there be digital learning assistants for every grade level, permanent substitutes in each building, school psychologists, more social workers, and separate curriculum coordinators for math and science instead of a combined STEM coordinator.

“We as a staff want to make sure that our students are receiving the best education they have. It’s no surprise that anyone living in Westford, moving to Westford, or thinking about moving to Westford, it’s for the school systems. […] We just want to give the taxpayers the best education we can provide the students,” Jussaume said.

III. COVID-19 testing guidelines update

DESE (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) has changed its recommended COVID-19 guidelines for schools. The new guidelines are that the Test-and-Stay program be removed and that symptomatic testing, or pool testing, be instated in its place.

If the Test-and-Stay Program is removed, contact tracing will stop entirely according to Chew. With the start of symptomatic testing or pool testing, there will be a one- or two-week gap of testing to allow to transition and gather resources.

There will also be access to at-home antigen rapid tests for staff and students who opt in to the program to receive these tests. The rapid tests, according to DESE guidelines, will be taken once a week for those who opt-in.

At this point in time, WPS has decided to move forward with the new recommendations, and the logistics will be communicated to parents and staff shortly.

“I will be sharing more specific information with all of our families about that once we are able to get all of the logistics from the state as to what the new expectations and requirements would be,” Chew said.