Saturday, May 08, 2021

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DHHS Prom and Graduation to Go Forward Traditionally, with Some Restrictions

This year, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Craig Cooke said it appears that end-of-year functions will look much more like they did previous to the pandemic, with students and families gathering on the green for commencement and prom held at a traditional venue in New Haven.

For the second year now, high schools across the state will be attempting to balance the still urgent public health concerns around the pandemic with the desire to give young people the chance to cap off their school careers with graduation ceremonies, proms, and other celebrations.

Last year, most graduation ceremonies were held in a drive-up or drive-through format, including in Madison, where families were steered into the Daniel Hand High School (DHHS) parking lot in front of a makeshift stage to receive diplomas before parading together back down to the green—still in their cars.

“We’re probably looking at a full senior prom with masks on, some social distancing, discussing if any food is served—things like that,” Cooke said. “We’re still working through all those issues...It would be much more similar to [previous years] than the drive-through.”

Even with the state dropping or revising most COVID restrictions later this month, Cooke said the school district is continuing to take a measured approach. Though graduation is currently scheduled for Friday, June 11, Cooke said that the district is ready to shift that date in order to avoid potential quarantine concerns if there were a virus exposure at other events.

Prom is currently scheduled for Saturday, June 5.

The district has also discussed requiring polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID tests before these events, according to Cooke, as well as cohorting these events, likely in larger groups of 20 to 50.

All of these ideas stem from a guidance document issued by the State Department of Health in early April, which did not lay down any mandates but “strongly recommends” testing and urges districts to “consider” everything from not serving food to spacing events more than 10 days apart.

Additionally, the state refers to the “added benefit” of vaccine availability for older students, with all Connecticut residents 16 years and older becoming eligible to receive the vaccine on April 1.

A number of high schools across the state have scheduled or held vaccine clinics specifically for students, including nearby North Haven. Only the Pfizer vaccine has received FDA emergency authorization for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Cooke said that Madison would not likely hold a clinic for students on its own, something that would require authorization from the regional East Shore Health District. Madison has already reached out to provide information about the vaccine and availability to families, but he said the district would also consider having a local clinic if it could get the proper sign-off and saw a demand.

“Anytime they do something, it costs them more resources and time. I think they want to be as efficient as possible, I don’t think they want to come out and do it for 20 people,” Cooke said. “There seems to be so many opportunities for people to go do that outside our local situation.”

As far as the more specific issues and restrictions—dancing at prom, spacing at graduation, and size of potential cohorts—Cooke said nothing was fully set in stone yet. Outside guests will almost certainly not be allowed at prom, though he deferred on other details to DHHS Principal T.J Salutari, who had not responded to emailed questions from The Source at press time.

Cooke added that he understood many residents are eager to cast off all the conditions or constraints that have been followed at nearly every event for the past 16 months. Because of this, Cooke said he didn’t think there was much of an appetite for an alternative virtual slate of events, though the district is still committed to finding ways for families who might not yet be comfortable to participate in end-of-year activities including livestreams.

At school, students and staff are already seeing less restrictions, according to Cooke with some plexiglass shields coming down and more mobility at lunch and recess, according to Cooke.

“We’re relaxing slowly some restrictions, but not this year, certainly, will we see a major shift at any one point. I think it’s just a gradual kind of relaxing,” he said.


Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email Jesse at j.williams@shorepublishing.com.

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