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On The First Day Of School In Springfield, Officials Pitch COVID Vaccinations To Students

 Teachers at the new Springfield Virtual School interact with their students over an online platform.
Paul Tuthill
Teachers at the new Springfield Virtual School interact with their students over an online platform.

A new virtual school goes live for students who do better away from the classroom

The new school year started today in Springfield, Massachusetts with students and teachers together again, but with reminders everywhere that COVID-19 still poses a danger.

For the first time since March 2020, all 20,000 of Springfield’s public school students were expected to be back in classrooms Monday with the option for remote learning gone for most.

But it was not a completely normal first-day-of-school. Face masks are mandatory. Three-feet of physical distancing is being observed when possible. Meals are being served in classrooms, not cafeterias.

During a tour of Putnam Vocational Technical High School Monday morning, Mayor Domenic Sarno and Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick encouraged students to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I just want to push the vaccine a little bit,” Warwick told a freshman English class. He urged the students to get their parents to sign permission slips and said the vaccine would be administered in the school.

“We’ll all be safer if you get the vaccine,” he said.

It is unknown how many Springfield students, teachers, and staff have been vaccinated. Under guidelines from the state, if a high school or middle school building achieves an 80 percent vaccination rate, the mask mandate could be lifted for the inoculated after October 1st.

Warwick said when it comes to what protocols to put in place, the Springfield schools will follow the science.

“The number one thing is that the kids are going to be safe and they are back here live in school,” Warwick said, adding “We are going to do everything it takes to facilitate that.”

Massachusetts is not mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for teachers. A survey of Springfield school teachers found roughly 70 percent support for vaccinations said Tracy Little Sasanecki, president of the Springfield Education Association, the teachers’ union.

“Science has said that it is a safe thing for all of us to do, but it is also freedom of choice and respecting peoples’ choices,” she said.

Springfield was one of a handful of districts given permission by the state education department to operate a virtual school.

The Springfield Virtual School went live online Monday morning from a former elementary school building.

It is a full curriculum K-12 grade school with about 520 students and 70 teachers, said co-principal Diane Bauer.

“It is really exciting to see it all coming to fruition,” Bauer said.

The virtual school was set up as an alternative for parents who were considering home-schooling. Joanne Anglade, an English language arts and social studies teacher, said it is intended for students who do better academically without the distractions that come with being in a traditional school setting.

“I am excited to see those students who already did thrive continue thriving and then some who were just starting to get a hang of it half-way through really now just accelerating,” she said.

The school district used federal COVID relief funds to cover the costs of setting up the virtual school.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.