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Superintendent:  Graduation Will Be ‘The Best We Can’

Superintendent:  Graduation Will Be ‘The Best We Can’

Amity School Supt. Dr. Jennifer Byars said she is anticipating “some form of graduation ceremony” to take place on June 10 to send off the school’s Class of 2020, but as of last week it was unclear what form that may take.  “We have ideas, but any plan will have to be cleared by the Department of Health,” she cautioned.  The Quinnipiack Valley Health District did not react to any inquiries in this matter.

Byars and High School Principal Anna Mahon had a Zoom meeting with some 170 parents hosted by the Parent-Teacher-Student Organization, during which they shared their ideas and expressed guarded optimism.  At the time of the conversation, the state was still under the Governor’s executive order 7X allowing only five people or less to congregate.

Mahon’s message to parents was that there are lots of moving pieces to consider.  For the administration, an important aspect is to hand students their diplomas so they can get on with their plans for the future.

In a memo to superintendents on May 15, the state Department of Education described three scenarios that would be in keeping with Executive Order 7X.

  • Scenario 1: A stage is set up for a school official to call the names of graduates.  Graduates and their families are lined up in their cars in front of the stage.  Staff and student speeches are done virtually before the diplomas are distributed.  To distribute diplomas, a graduate may leave the car to receive their diploma while practicing safe social distancing, have a picture taken, and return to their vehicle.  Other than receiving the diploma, no individual should leave a car.
  • Scenario 2: Similar to the first scenario, but students stay in their vehicles when they receive their diplomas.  Students’ names are announced as they drive by the person distributing diplomas, and they receive the diploma while practicing safe social distancing (i.e. diploma is placed on table), and have a picture taken.  Students and families remain in their vehicle during the opening ceremony which may include speeches from students.
  • Scenario 3: Virtual graduations, where speeches are broadcast via Zoom or similar platforms; graduate names and photos are displayed in alphabetical order – similar to what was recently done by the University of Connecticut.

If districts decide to adopt “creative variations” of outdoor gatherings for graduations that involve any in-person congregating, they must receive approval from their local health department, the memo says.  And that is apparently what Dr. Byars is doing.  “We are currently working with QVHD to explore those options,” she wrote when asked about the memo.  “Anything that we elect to do will be in partnership with them and approved by them.”

Byars said an earlier suggestion to postpone graduation to a date later in the summer is no longer on the table.  “There is going to come a point in the summer where we have to turn our attention to the new school year,” she told the parents who were in the meeting.

As for 6th grade graduates, those entering the Amity system, the district is thinking about producing a virtual introduction to middle school, Dr. Byars said.  The traditional visits for eighth graders at the high school however did not take place, due to the school closure.  Come the new school year, the school is hoping to use the Link Crew — a group of student volunteers — to help welcome the incoming freshmen and help them navigate their way around the high school.

Last day:  In Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge the much-anticipated last day of school for students is June 12, about three weeks from now.  Students have not been to school since the Governor ordered schools closed on March 13, in an effort to stem the spread of corona virus.  But students were expected to continue their work at home, facilitated by virtual platforms.  It seems that this year families in the Amity District — as in most other districts across the nation — are counting down more fervently than usual to reach the finish line.

In the meantime, students need to clear out lockers and retrieve their personal items.  To ensure that this does not become a social occasion the school is encouraging families to choose a time slot to come in, one at a time, similar to booking a parent-teacher conference slot.  Come June the district also will start collecting items that need to be returned to the school, such as text books and library books and such.

Summer plans unclear:  What happens after June 12 was still unclear as of last week.  The Governor’s order allowed summer camps to open after June 29, but locally many decisions had not been taken.  “We are not clear yet on what we are doing for the summer,” wrote music teacher Phil Dolan.

Dr. Byars said the school was planning to run the Extended School Year program for students with special needs.  The Amity Adult Education program has several programs running as part of its spring program and is looking to move some programs online, Byars said in one of her reports to the community.

Woodbridge Recreation meanwhile has canceled its popular summer camp, since the parameters made it too complicated and expensive to run.  Private organizations such as the Woodruff YMCA, the JCC and Holiday Hill are advertising their camps starting June 29.

Looking to a new year:  School is scheduled to re-open August 26 for students; teachers start two days prior.

Amity Budget passes:  After conducting a virtual hearing, the Amity Board of Education on May 4 approved its $50.7 million budget for the Fiscal Year 2020-21, which represents a 2.49% increase.  For the hearing, residents were encouraged to submit their comments by e-mail ahead of the meeting.  As is typically the case, some expressed their support of education in general, and this budget in particular, while others asked the board to take the looming economic downturn into consideration.  The letters, split evenly five for, five against and one just asking a number of questions, are available to read on the district website, https://resources.finalsite.net/images/v1589396807/amityregion5org/cthq8zhclx9hcftmsotz/BOE_Draft_AnnualMtg_Minutes_050420.pdf.

Most of the budget increase is due to a further roll out of the one-on-one technology plan, Dr. Byars said.  The program will provide, over the course of several years, a laptop for every student to support instruction.  The program has been implemented for grades 7 and 8, and in the upcoming year will be extended to grades 9 and 10.  The unexpected switch this spring to distance learning has shown just how crucial it is for students to have computer access, she said.

The budget also pays for an additional social worker and administrative support to the special education program.  The district will be hiring two School Security Officers, one each at the two middle schools.  These are typically retired officers, and are being used by many schools for security around the country.  Originally, the Amity board had sought to hire School Resource Officers who are part of the local police force.

Of the three member towns, Woodbridge will be particularly hard hit by the budget increase as its student population has increased as well.  Woodbridge’s share of the Amity budget will increase by 5.28 % to $15.7 million; Orange will be contributing $25 million, up by 1.08%; and Bethany will be contributing $9 million, up by .84%.

By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent

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