The School District is still looking at a Friday, July 31 date for the Class of 2020 graduation ceremony, according to Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak.
“Right now, the location looks to be outside of the stadium on the JV baseball/softball fields,” he said. The location permits the construction of staging while keeping graduates physically distanced from each other.
“We’re looking at numbers of tickets per graduate and putting families in groups or blocks six feet apart from others,” he said. Only Principal Dr. Christopher Jones and student speakers will be on stage at proper distances. “But we will try to make is as elegant and as celebratory as we can for the Class of 2020.”
While the ceremony is expected to begin at 6 p.m., Szymaniak cautioned that it would be “pretty warm,” as it takes place in the middle of summer.
“We moved it from the football field so it wouldn’t absorb as much heat … the challenge right now is having enough power to power up our audio system,” he said.
Details on the event will be forthcoming as it is “a work in progress.”
School officials will also try to gradually reopen some summer school programs, including coach-sponsored youth sports clinics, school-related camps such as Science Camp are “on the block” and the YMCA program is going to use Duval, where the North River Collaborative will also use classrooms. Strict guidelines set up by the Mass. Department of Public Health will be followed.
“We thought it was important … to make sure we get some kids involved in some things this summer to get them re-acclimated socially with peers and have some fun since many summer camps are closed,” Szymaniak said. He is looking to mid-July or August to get camp programs going.
The state enters re-opening Phase 3 after Monday, July 4.
Szymaniak said the state safety protocols do not now require temperature checks, but all others, including distancing, masks and hand-washing will be observed.
“All the camps and clinics will be un by people that are accountable to us,” Szymaniak said about the potential for leasing the high school’s facilities to boost revenue flow. “I’m very hesitant — and I’m going to leave this up to the committee — to discuss and potentially vote on.”
He recommended not opening buildings for such use until after Labor Day and when school is back in session and new guidelines are known.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) for the new school year are estimated to be about $460 per student, or a $1.8 million expense as the district tries to plan for next year as a complete picture of state guidelines are not yet available.
“We won’t be able to control the folks who come into our performing arts center,” Szymaniak said. “We won’t be able to trace somebody if someone ends up getting sick at an event that we have.”
Committee member Fred Small suggested such a situation could leave the district open to liability, which Szymaniak said was exactly his concern and he is asking people who want to rent the facility to be patient.
Committee member Dan Cullity argued the district would not be in a position to make leasing worth the cost of maintaining cleanliness and that the district’s main concern should be getting students back to class.
The committee voted 9-0 to support Szymaniak’s recommendation to close the high school to outside groups until after school re-opens.
Szymaniak said parents and staff are being surveyed about their experience with remote learning this spring, to plan in case it is required for part of the next school year.
Hanson Committee member Mike Jones asked how town meetings would be affected, as both towns are looking at the high school for the sessions. Szymaniak said the gym can fit more than 300 socially-distanced people, with room for almost 125 more in the performing arts center — and that both towns can be accommodated for an outdoor event, as well, he said. Local attendees would also make contact tracing easier, according to Szymaniak.
A budget Q & A document, used as talking points at a recent meeting of the Whitman Finance Committee, is being posted on the district website to provide information for residents and officials to refer to going into town meetings, including staff reductions and resulting class sizes.
“I implore anybody, if you have any questions, to please contact the superintendent or administration — not for people to be sitting in a meeting and saying, ‘Well, the superintendent can do this …,’” Small said. “When, in fact, its not true, they don’t know what they are talking about and it’s very frustrating.”
The 10-page document is also the subject of an informational half-hour cable show on WHCA-TV hosted by School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes in conversation with Whitman member Christopher Scriven and Hanson member Christopher Howard.
“It’s a dangerous precedent to just float numbers out there when there are really other true numbers, that the true, hard facts come through at,” Hayes said.
“I will not respond to questions on social media,” Szymaniak said. “I will only respond by email or phone call.”
Committee member Dawn Byers urged the committee to keep their eyes on the education they are providing.
“Education should level the playing field, so our budget is something that we’re presenting to prepare kids to compete with our area kids,” she said, concerned about regression by the fall among children whose families can’t afford tutoring or other technology, educational or social-emotional assistance. She also noted years in which she sat in the audience at meetings watching services to children funded last.
“I watched as the leftovers of the municipal budget went to the school as if it was an insignificant piece of the town,” she said. “This district has been an excellent partner to both towns. This district has negotiated every year — unfortunately, some years, negotiating down and cutting the budget.”
She cautioned that excess and deficiency has to be used as a budget safety net and made a motion to meet with the Mass. Association of School Committees to set up a series of workshop to set goals for student achievement, establishing all-day kindergarten and budgetary goals for 2023.
The motion was not supported because other committee members argured, Szymaniak is already working on a strategic plan while the towns are stuggling to fund a level-service budget.