HANSON — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 26, voted to defer to recommendations from Gov. Charlie Baker’s office and the Hanson Board of health before deciding on whether to approve a July 31 WHRHS outdoor graduation ceremony at the football field. Town Administrator John Stanbrook said he spoke to the police and fire chiefs as well as the Board of Health, all of whom expressed no problem with the proposed plan so long as they could meet with school district officials to review logistics a few weeks before the event.
Whitman Town Administrator Frank Lynam received the same request.
Friends and family of graduates would be invited if social distancing restrictions have been lifted by then. If restrictions are still in place, no audience would be permitted and normal distancing would be observed. The press and local cable access would cover it, with the latter providing live coverage.
“I didn’t have a problem with it because of the social distancing,” said Health Board Chairman Arlene Dias. “The kids are going to be out in the field, and people are aware [that] if we can’t have an audience there, we can’t have an audience there, but we didn’t see any issues with it, the way that it was planned out and the way it was explained it was going to happen.”
Because the email from the school district came after the Board of Health’s last meeting, Administrative Assistant Theresa Cocio forwarded the email individually to board members who responded directly to her, according to Dias.
“I don’t know, but I would think most people didn’t have an issue with it,” Dias said, adding that it would definitely be brought up for a formal vote at the next Health Board meeting June 2.
“I’m a little bit wary on this one,” Selectman Matt Dyer said. “I would say defer to the governor and see what he has to say, but I just said no to 10 families meeting for an hour for a story time [at Camp Kiwanee], I don’t think having 400 kids on a turf field is any better.”
Dyer said that, while he would hope students would adhere to the policies, it is a time of celebration and social distancing guidelines may not be observed during that exuberance.
He made a motion to defer the question to the governor’s office and a recommendation from the Hanson Board of Health, which has jurisdiction over high school grounds.
“If things loosen up in the next few weeks and the governor says, ‘Go for it,’ I’m all for it,” he said. “But for now I can’t say no to 10 families and yes to 400 students. I just think that would be unfair.”
Selectman Kenny Mitchell said he had no problem with a ceremony if the seats were set up to observe social distancing.
“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s high school graduation. That field is pretty big, so I think you can socially distance 400 kids, if you had to, on that field.”
Selectman Jim Hickey said he would prefer waiting until after the Board of Health’s next meeting.
“It’s all about information,” he said, noting the state is still only in Phase 1 of reopening. “July 31 may seem like a long ways a way, but it’s not.”
Selectman Wes Blauss agreed with Mitchell in supporting the commencement, while cautioning there is no assurance that a July 31 date will be possible.
“As a board, we’re just saying if it’s possible, I’m for it,” Blauss said. Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett agreed that a binding vote is difficult without guidance from the state and local health board.
“I don’t think that we can grant approval at this point,” she said. “I think we need to know more about what the plan is and to make sure that the Board of Health is comfortable with that plan and that they’ve weighed in on it.”
In providing a general coronavirus update to Selectmen, Dias said she has been on multiple calls with state health officials every day and that the Board of Health is beginning to look at questions surrounding golf courses and outdoor dining a restaurants — which is still not allowed — but right now a lot of work is going into keeping up with new guidance coming along in order to be able to put it into practice as soon as possible.
FitzGerald-Kemmett noted there is a push to help restaurants open again, noting that as the alcohol licensing board would have a say in the matter.
“They’re not allowing sit-down eating anywhere yet,” Dias said, stressing that outdoor dining is included in that.