TOWNSEND – Graduating North Middlesex Regional High School seniors, like their peers across the state, can’t have a traditional commencement this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
But the unconventional graduation plan that NMRSD Superintendent Brad Morgan has proposed – and which the Board of Health approved Friday morning – offers some of the pomp under the circumstances.
Absent other items on the ceremonial list, the plan covers all the COVID-19-related health and safety points — from six-foot social distancing to disinfecting surfaces — and gives each member of the Class of 2020 that once-in-a-lifetime moment in the spotlight as they walk on-stage to pick up their diplomas, one by one.
Now good to go, officially, graduation is on track for June 5 and 6, (rain dates June 13 and 13) with a green light from the health board, which has been mulling the matter over the past two weeks.
The decision-making process took three separate teleconference sessions to resolve, wrapping up with a brief emergency meeting Friday morning.
With a “guidance document” they’d been waiting for from state health officials in hand, the three-person local health board voted unanimously to approve Morgan’s graduation plans.
The board hasn’t always been on the same page during previous discussions.
At issue was whether the superintendent’s innovative graduation scenario clashed with a state order – #13, specifically – that limits gatherings to 10 people.
Member Linda Johansen said it would not, pointing to a caveat in the same order that would allow it.
In her view, if the gatherings are outside and social distancing parameters are met, larger groups should be OK. And she felt strongly that the board had the final say and should allow the graduation.
She felt the same way Friday. “It seems to give us latitude to decide locally,” she said.
State health officials apparently agree.
The board had been waiting on guidance from state health officials. Now, they have it, albeit not as straightforward as he’d hoped, Chairman Christopher Genoter said.
State order #13 says outdoor graduations are exempt from the 10-person limit, he said. But the email response to the board’s questions also throws in a curve: the events should take place after July 19.
That seems contradictory, he said. Referencing the state health board’s “guidance document,” he said it seems to green-light outdoor graduations in the first place. “It’s meant to allow in-person gatherings of more than 10 in an outdoor space, such as an athletic field,” he said.
As he reads it, once the health board approves, planning particulars can be left up to the school district and local authorities, Genoter said. That would include, presumably, the event date.
To summarize, Morgan’s preferred option, which if all goes according to plan is the one that will be implemented, goes like this:
On each of the two days set aside for the graduation, (June 5 and 6, weather permitting) separate, successive groups of 25 grads each will assemble on the school’s athletic field, properly distanced by existing lane lines and traffic cones. Each grad gets to invite 5 guests, who will be seated in appropriately distanced seating “pods” in front of the stage that are disinfected after each use.
Properly distanced, graduating seniors proceed across the stage, one at a time, to get heir diplomas. The ceremonies – five per day, 10 in all – will take place at two-hour intervals, from noon to 8 p.m.
Morgan has said that speeches — valedictorian, salutatorian, class president, high school principal, etc. — will be virtual, recorded separately, off-site, by Pepperell Media, which will also film the ceremonies and has been working with the school district on an all-inclusive graduation video.