The School Committee will not be attending Saturday’s Watertown High School graduation after most members thought it was not appropriate to be there when so many cannot attend. They also heard about the planning for reopening schools in the fall, which may include reduced numbers of students on campus each day.
Traditionally, the School Committee has taken part in the WHS graduation, with one of the members standing on stage shaking the hands of graduates when the students receive their diplomas. June 20’s graduation, however, will not be a traditional one.
The stands at Victory Field, normally filled with family and friends of the graduates, will be empty. Each graduate pull up in a car full of up to four family members. The student then steps out, walks to a small platform where they will receive their diploma from Principal Shirley Lundberg. Then they will get their photo taken, will get back in their vehicle and leave. Parents can get out and stand at the fence to the field as their child gets their diploma.
School Committee Chairman John Portz brought up the idea of whether to attend the ceremony at Monday’s School Committee meeting.
“In the past, the School Committee also participated in shaking hands, No body will be shaking hands this time,” Portz said. “The question came up whether we should continue to do that. From my perspective, it is something we have done in the past. It is an official duty, to some extent, as the School Committee is part of the policy making process, part of aspect of community that supports that process, but I put on to see if others had other feelings.”
School Committee member Lily Rayman-Reed said she would not feel right being at the ceremony.
“If one of us is standing on the field, why can’t one of the parents stand on the field?” Rayman-Reed said. “If we allow for a body on field, I would happily give up my spot and instead students can pick somebody they would prefer.
“To me, the only thing that matters with this is what best for those kids and how to honor that.”
Superintendent Dede Galdston said that the format for the graduation has been decided, and there is not an opportunity to change it so a parent could be on the field.
“The only person on stage — there is not really any room — is Shirley (Lundberg),” Galdston said. “Myself and the guidance department will be at the podium because we are calling names.”
David Stokes, whose daughter will be graduating, said that he would not feel right being at the graduation.
“I would feel personally bad if I got special privilege that others did not,” Stokes said. “If we decided to do this, I would not participate at time that my daughter walks across the stage.”
Stokes added later in the meeting that the Rolling Rally last Saturday was a huge success, and he has heard several people say they think it should be done every year.
School Committee member Lindsay Mosca said she thought the calculation for whether members should attend was different this year.
“I think what is important to say is we honor the graduates. We are so excited fo them. We want them to feel they accomplished something important, and (feel) our support …,” Mosca said. “If traditionally we have been there in the past, it just doesn’t feel like the right move here.”
During the meeting, WHS teacher Matt Rose wrote in and said that traditionally all the teachers attend graduation, but this year they cannot unless they are able to work for three hours.
“I know myself and other teachers are turned off that we cannot be there and the School Committee can,” Rose wrote.
The School Committee ultimately decided that they would not attend the graduation.
Watertown school officials have gathered a Reopening Task Force of about 50 people to plan the reopening of schools in the fall. Galdston said they will know more soon when state education officials release their reopening guidelines, which could come as early as this week.
“The Task Force is considering all the scenarios so we not waiting for the guidance from the state,” Galdston said. “We believe when we get the guidance, all the work we have done will dovetail nicely into the work that has been done already.”
From what she has heard, schools could look quite different in the beginning.
“All indications are that we should be preparing for some form of hybrid form of reopening in the fall,” Galdston said. “Some sort of A/B or alternating schedule where somewhere around 50 percent of students will be in the building at one time, based on early guidance recommendations.”
The Task Forces has four subgroups, teaching and learning, physical learning environment, student support, and operations. They are considering how to allow for social distancing in the buildings, think about challenges in teaching and learning, preparing to meet the physical and emotional needs of students and staff, and how other aspects of schools will work, including lunches and after school sports and activities.
Assistant Superintendent Theresa McGuinness said the Task Force has sent out surveys to parents and staff to get their input. Also, they have put together focus groups to hear from students.
Lunches at elementary schools will likely be eaten in the classroom, so the district will have to figure out how to give teacher a break at that time, said Director of Student Services Kathleen DeMarais.
The MIAA has not decided yet whether the fall sports season will take place, and there have been discussions of flipping spring and fall sports seasons, said Heidi Perkins, Director of Finance and Operations. In Watertown, the discussions have been around how to get teams to games and meets while still social distancing.