Back to the drawing board on graduation

May 28, 2020 by

Published in the May 28, 2020 edition.

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — As of last night, it appeared that the School Department will once again modify its 2020 graduation plan and try to do a larger event in July or August that will have most, if not all 260 graduates together for one ceremony.

Superintendent of Schools Douglas Lyons told the Board of Health last night that due to the strong feelings of senior class members and their families as well as School Committee members, the School Department would in all likelihood attempt to do a larger graduation ceremony later in the summer when restrictions on large gatherings are expected to be relaxed.

On Tuesday night, Lyons had presented to the School Committee a graduation ceremony proposal that would have had rotating, smaller groups of graduates and their parents on the Shawn F. Beasley Field to receive their diplomas over a two-day period, June 13 and 14. Graduation speeches would be filmed ahead of time.

But Lyons said that that plan was not well-received by seniors and families and had become a hot topic on social media. Ultimately, Lyons told the School Committee on Tuesday night that he would go back to the Board of Health to see if there was any way that all 260 graduating seniors could be on the field at the same time.

That brought Lyons to last night’s virtual Board of Health meeting held via Zoom teleconferencing.

The answer from Health Director Ruth Clay and all three members of the Board of Health was that if graduation were to go forward in June, state guidelines would not permit a ceremony with all 260 seniors on the field at once. Board of Health Chair Laurel Gourville observed that including faculty and guests, that number could easily swell to more than 1,000 people.

Lyons explained that the reason for the original smaller group graduation ceremony in June was that some students would not be able to attend a later graduation due to military commitments, families moving from the area, planned vacations or other reasons. Some students also would not be able to attend a larger ceremony due to health reasons, Lyons said.

He added that he had been advised by the state Department of Education to avoid a plan that would exclude any students from participating.

Board of Health members liked the small group graduation plan and ultimately approved it so that it could be used for those students who, for a variety of reasons, would not be able to attend a larger ceremony in July or August. Lyons estimated that about 20 or 30 seniors fit into that category.

Lyons said that he planned to reconvene stakeholders today to discuss a larger graduation event later in the summer. The challenge, he said, was that there was no guarantee that they would be able to do a later event at all.

“If there’s a resurgence of the virus,” Lyons said, “we’d be back to square one.”

Lyons noted that some of the desire among seniors and their families for one larger graduation event was fueled by the knowledge that Melrose, Lynnfield and Saugus are planning to hold their graduation ceremonies later in the summer, when larger gatherings may be allowed.

“Either way,” Lyons said, “it will be anticlimactic because it won’t be the graduation ceremony they were expecting.” He noted that 10 of the 12 high schools in the Middlesex League are doing virtual graduations, as are 98 percent of the schools in the state.

Lyons said that he would be likely be back before the Board of Health next Wednesday for their feedback on whatever plan is on the table at that point.

“We’ll get graduation done and we’ll do it well,” he said.

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