Best on the Shoreline!
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Last year, following the abrupt end of in-person classes, sports, and other school events, districts across the country scrambled to salvage as much of a normal end of the year as possible, navigating sometimes vague state guidance and the still-novel world of the pandemic. This year, residents are hoping things are different.
The state released its preliminary guidance for prom, graduation, and other year end celebrations last Friday, laying out broad recommendations for what these things might look like in 2021, allowing for some very modified versions of these important traditions, many of which did not happen at all in 2020.
Guilford Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Freeman was careful to say local conversations were in their very early stages, but that there is the possibility of holding a more complete slate of school activities to cap off another virus-marred year,
“We’re committed to doing something; we’re committed to being safe. And now that we have guidance from the state, we can begin more planning in earnest,” Freeman said.
The relatively short document—three pages—issued through the State Department of Health does not lay out any new mandates, but does remind local leaders that “depending on when these events are scheduled, restrictions on gathering sizes may still be in place, including percentage capacity limitations and/or allowable attendance caps for any single event.”
It focuses on mitigation strategies including testing before events, continuing mask wearing and social distancing (even for those vaccinated), and switching up the timing or location of events.
“[T]he Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) continues to urge individuals and organizations to take a cautious approach to event planning,” the guidance reads. “Individuals and organizations should assume the continued need for inclusion of many of the standard public health protective measures that have been in place throughout the pandemic.”
The new state guidelines specifically recommend an “open air” event rather than even a tented location, with reduced capacity for all of these celebrations.
Current state guidelines allow 100-person indoor gatherings and 200 people outdoors. Freeman said that for graduation, he anticipated something that wouldn’t be any more “strict” than last year.
“I think that this year that everybody is going to be a little more comfortable with the safety of an outdoor event. We’re not sure if it’s going to be car-based or a more open setting than it was before, but I think we’ll all be more confident that we can do an outdoor setting that is going to be safe, and work for everybody
Freeman added it was “very likely” that prom would be held in “an appropriate outdoor space,” and that the district was also looking at the timing of all these events in order to mitigate risks.
“The thing that people are concerned about is holding a prom, and then if there is an exposure, the resulting quarantines from prom then ends up keeping kids out of graduation. So we need to think really thoughtfully about the timelines,” he said.
Freeman would not commit to necessarily ensuring those two big events or any others are held 10 days apart—the length of a quarantine as recommended by the CDC—but said that would be a focus of conversations going forward.
Additionally, the new guidelines say that districts should try to combine end of year activities or “sponsor” smaller alternative events for students who might be anxious to gather in large groups.
All of those possibilities are still being discussed in Guilford, according to Freeman, knowing that “there are things happening nearly every single week” in a normal end-of-year cycle.
Testing and vaccines are two big tools available to most people this year that were either not available or not readily available last graduation season. The state “strongly recommends” that districts require proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of a big event like graduation and restrict attendees to those currently enrolled in the school.
While declining to say whether Guilford would require COVID testing or how it would be handled locally, Freeman did say that he appreciates the importance of testing and that those issues would also be discussed.
The state guidance also mentions the possibility of having students vaccinated ahead of these events, advising that districts consider delaying them in order to have more immunity within the student population.
Freeman again emphasized that those discussions are ongoing, but added that any extra effort to get Guilford students vaccinated would require regional or state assistance.
“It would have to run through East Shore Health Clinic if we were to have anything to do with it, and I haven’t even had preliminary conversations about that yet,” Freeman said.
“Obviously the more students who can get vaccinated independently through their parents, the better,” he added.