Westfield Washington Schools Supt. Sherry Grate knows there is congestion in the hallways of Westfield High School, but she said a photo circulating on social media on the first day of classes was an aberration.
Grate sent a note to parents about the picture showing crowded hallways Aug. 6. Grate said the photo was taken the first day when students were still learning the class schedule.
“Additionally, we had challenges yesterday with the bells (signaling class changes) in the cafeteria, which substantially increased the number of students in and out of one area,” Grate wrote in email to parents. “Normally, because of the delay in bells, this would not have occurred. It was an anomaly.”
The next day there was a manual release of students which greatly improved traffic flow, Grate said.
Grate said safety and well-being of students is always the top priority.
“The high school building has been checked and rechecked by state and local officials to ensure we meet existing fire codes and additional safety requirements,” Grate wrote to parents. “We have been told we exceed these requirements. We are in regular, almost daily, contact with the Westfield Fire Marshal. We are certainly congested, which is why it was so important to move forward with our construction as quickly as possible. We very much appreciate the community’s support in helping us work through phases of construction and hallways will be much easier to navigate moving forward.”
However, WHS senior Hannah Frei said congestion has been an ongoing issue.
“It definitely is still and has been all throughout high school, but this year, especially, because there are so many more people in the freshman class,” she said. “The downstairs is a whole lot more crowded than the upstairs, so if I have to travel across the school, I usually go upstairs to walk across and just go down the stairs closest to my class so that I don’t have to deal with being so crammed.”
During the 2018-19 school year, Frei said the halls were so crowded after second period that she “got behind these guys every day and they pushed their way through and made a path.”
Westfield sophomore Kyle Emgenbroich said the first day was likely a unique issue.
“Yes, they are crowded, but they’re manageable,” he said. “I think the reason it’s a first-day thing is because that when freshmen go in for freshman orientation, they are overwhelmed and only see the two main stairwells, so when they come to school after freshman orientation, they are like programmed robots who only know of two stairways and they have a specific route they know because it was what they practiced during freshman orientation.
“But as they learn the floor plan of the school, they learn about all the other stairways and where they lead, so then it starts to thin out.”
Emgenbroich said he was programmed like that as a freshman as well, but figured multiple ways to get to class and avoid traffic.
“I think people saw the picture that was posted and were shocked, but if they walked the hallways during passing periods now, they would see how much better they have gotten and be surprised,” he said.
Carrie Cason, the school district’s director of communications and strategic partnerships, said WHS completed its safety drills (severe weather, evacuation, fire drill) during the first week of school and exceeded evacuation-time standards.