An update on the status of Westport schools

Safety actions, return schedule, teacher negotiations

By Thomas F. Aubin, Acting Superintendent-Westport Community Schools
Posted 10/14/20

Dear Parents/Guardians:

I am writing to update you about the precautions being made at Westport Community Schools to keep our students and staff safe.

At the direction of the Westport …

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An update on the status of Westport schools

Safety actions, return schedule, teacher negotiations

Posted

Dear Parents/Guardians:

I am writing to update you about the precautions being made at Westport Community Schools to keep our students and staff safe.

At the direction of the Westport School Committee, the District has worked non-stop since March 2020 to ensure the safety of our 1,450 students, as well as our over 200 employees. We are simultaneously doing this while continuing to provide our students with the world-class education they deserve.

First, we understand that remote learning cannot replicate the classroom experience and the magic of in-person education that takes place daily between students and their teachers. We also know students want to be with their friends and teachers. We equally recognize that parents are anxious about sending their children back to school while the pandemic continues. However, we believe we have developed an educationally sound reopening plan, guided by science, that provides us with the best chance of success. In developing our Re-entry plan, we have followed recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Westport Board of Health.

Health & Safety Actions 

To prepare for the beginning of this school year, the Westport School Committee has authorized more than $900,000 in expenditures to ensure our schools provide a healthy learning environment for students and staff alike. These expenditures include ensuring all HVAC units in each school are cleaned and sanitized by a professional outside vendor. The cost of this alone is over $96,000. Air purifiers have or will be installed in every room at each school. We have presently installed 250 HEPA purifiers in all schools, costing the district more than $137,000. We have also provided electrostatic sprayers for classroom use to protect our students and teachers further. Additionally, at the Macomber Primary and Westport Elementary Schools, we will be installing a UV light system in the common areas, which should help further reduce the possible spread of Covid in the buildings. We have also created flow patterns for each school to ensure minimal direct student contact when students are not in the classroom.

Re-opening Plans

Currently, only the Macomber Primary School has students attending in person every day. Students at Westport Elementary School and Westport Junior/Senior High School began the year remotely. We are working on modifications to our Re-entry Plan with 3rd and 4th-grade students at Westport Elementary School to return to the classroom by October 13. Additionally, the target date for our 5th and 6th-grade students' full-in return is October 26, 2020. At Westport Junior/Senior High School, given the age of the current building and the number of students, and the fact that each classroom is of a different size, we cannot yet develop adequate remedial air treatment to allow the safe return of students. At the same time, we are continuing to seek alternatives that will enable us to transition to a hybrid model by the beginning of November. Until then, students at the Junior/Senior High School will participate in remote learning for the time being.

Status of Negotiations with Teachers

For more than three months, the District has been negotiating in good faith with the Westport Federation of Teachers (WFT) to develop a Memorandum of Agreement to establish protocols to be followed to reopen schools safely. These negotiations are necessitated by the numerous changes to scheduling, class sizes, and other contractual considerations. We have worked collaboratively with the WFT to address safety and remote instruction concerns for a re-opening plan that will best serve our 1,450 students districtwide. However, during these negotiations, some of the union's requests were not feasible. For example, the WFT proposed each of the 160 members of the bargaining unit to receive 28 additional sick days if they contracted COVID-19 or were forced to quarantine. At an estimated cost of approximately $10,000 per bargaining unit employee, or more than 1.5 million dollars in total, this was not something the taxpayers could afford.

Additionally, the WFT has continually resisted the district's efforts to enhance education for all students by providing "live-streaming" classes to students learning remotely. The district offered extensive training on using Google Meet throughout several professional development days and will hire additional IT personnel to assist with technology integration. While the WFT appears fundamentally opposed to" live-streaming's" potential benefits, the district and School Committee believes this is the best way to enhance all students' educational opportunities while keeping them connected to their teachers and peers. Unfortunately, the WFT did not ratify the previous agreement presented by the Committee.

This decision is regrettable.

Every day, Westport teachers find new and exciting ways to deliver lessons that will connect and resonate with our students. We are proud that they are innovators and confident in adapting the lessons using new technologies to provide all students with the quality learning experiences they have a right to and deserve.

As stakeholders in the Westport Community Schools, we want our children to be with their teachers and friends, and recognize that nothing can replace the educational, emotional, and psychological benefits of in-person learning. Rest assured that while there are many challenges ahead for all of us, we are confident that we will meet them head-on for the benefit of all.

Sincerely, 

Antonio Viveiros Chairperson, Westport School Committee

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