Parents push for remote learning options as state officials tout COVID-19 testing program

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This article was written by Ryan Trowbridge and Matt Sottile of Western Mass News on September 21, 2021.

WESTFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) — There’s a call to allow remote learning again at schools in the state as COVID-19 case numbers go up, but state education leaders are pointing to a first-of-its-kind in-school testing program that’s working and keeping more students in the classroom after being exposed.

It’s been a mixed reaction regarding a return to in-person learning in the Bay State and officials continue to strategize a way to keep students at school as much as possible.

“It’s very beneficial. It helps them socially, emotionally, and being around kids,” said Charles and Shanneah Langford of Springfield.

One Springfield family, with a daughter in sixth grade, told Western Mass News they’re happy that she is back in the classroom, but others are hoping the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will reinstitute a remote option to keep their kids safe.

“We aren’t asking for forever. We’re just asking for remote options until vaccines are widely available to all children under 12,” the other family explained.

At a DESE board meeting on Tuesday, members got an update on the school year so far. Commissioner Jeffrey Riley spoke highly of Monday’s Pfizer trial data showing that children ages 5 to 11 have a strong antibody response to the vaccine.

“We hope that that will begin the process of getting back to a more normal school environment,” Riley explained.

One of the focal points at the meeting was a voluntary ‘Test and Stay’ program – the first-of-its-kind in the country – which Riley said is allowing those identified as close contacts to someone who has tested positive to test at school each morning. If they are asymptomatic and test negative, they stay in class and avoid disruptions to their learning.

“It’s an ambitious goal. We want to keep kids in school. We have been able to save over 1,000 in-person school days already,” Riley added.

Western Mass News spoke to Stefan Czaporowski, superintendent of Westfield Public Schools, about the positive effect this testing program is having on students and staff.

Czaporowski explained:

“When they are quarantined are told they have to go home, they get the makeup work through Google Classroom at least in our district, but the remote piece is not really an option for them and that becomes problematic.”

“We only have a limited amount of substitute teachers, so if we can’t secure enough substitute teachers in the building…We wouldn’t be able to open our schools anyway.”
Some parents agree that keeping kids in the classroom and out of the house is a win for everyone.

“She’s much happier and she’s getting outlets not just with us and she’s not on her iPad, so that’s awesome for us,” Langford said.