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Last Monday evening (Dec. 14), COVID 19 inflicted significant damage to the town of Westford. The School Committee, following the advice of Superintendent Bill Olsen, voted 4-3 to significantly curtail winter sports at Westford Academy. This was a devasting decision. Losing out on athletic activities, particularly during a student’s junior and senior years of high school, is a major emotional blow.
The School Superintendent made his recommendation because he did not want to assume the risk of spreading COVID within the schools. Board of Health member Susan Hanley summed up the position, when she said “ we can’t force the larger group to assume a risk presented by a smaller group,” so the bulk of winter sports at WA were banned. This decision has raised serious questions as to whether it may have been an over-reaction. Evidence was presented that the Mass Interscholastic Athletic Association, decided to move forward with winter sports statewide with rule modifications. The American Pediatrics Association’s position is that sports should continue with precautions. Thirty communities in the Dual Country league, to which Westford belongs, are going forward. The state’s Department of Education has remained silent on the matter.
An interesting debate ensued during the School committee discussion. Dr. Rebecca Rosenstein, a physician at Emerson hospital, made the case that the emotional damage to students caused by the continuing isolation may be greater than the risk of infection. Concerns were raised that a ban would drive student athletes into club teams, which would put them at even greater risk. Dr Rosenstein implored the school committee not to take pre-emptive action in advance of a possible ban imposed by the state, all to no avail.
The School Committee’s decision to sacrifice an athletic experience for some of our students over fears of Covid 19 was overly cautious. Dr. Trevasso of the Covid 19 committee seemed to lay down a new educational policy for the town, which placed athletics on the bottom tier of concern. In making its decision, the School Committee assumed a responsibility not assigned to it, acting as a public health agency, not as the stewards of the towns educational program. In so doing it hurt Westford students. We have to accept risk, if we want to preserve our freedom, livelihoods and quality of education. Following the guidance offered by our national and state authorities is prudent. Making up our own rules, as was done Dec. 14, was unnecessarily draconian and significantly damaged Westford’s educational program.