by Chea Waters Evans, editor, Charlotte Bridge
Eighth-grade graduation at Charlotte Central School brings up shared memories across generations: potluck dinner in the MPR, parents weeping, kids feeling awkward as teachers serenade students with an emotional ballad, graduates walking through the arch to receive their diplomas, the dance. Those rites of passage were put on hold last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and though the governor of Vermont promised graduation celebrations could be on the calendar this spring, the Champlain Valley School District is not so ready to join—or host—the party. This year’s eighth graders will graduate June 10, and the current plan is to hold a drive-through graduation similar to last year’s.
CVSD Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said that across the district, eighth-grade graduations will be remote, and that in Charlotte, Hinesburg, and Shelburne, celebratory activities will take place during the school day. Williston students will have a remote graduation ceremony as well as a dance.
“I know that everyone wants to make sure that eighth graders have an ending ceremony that marks this important milestone in their lives,” Pinckney wrote in an email to The Charlotte Bridge. “The principals think it was special last year—and in some cases and ways more meaningful.”
Jen Roth, middle-school principal at Charlotte Central School, said in an email, “The school has not put out any formal plans for the end-of-year activities, including graduation.” She did not respond to questions regarding the possibility of a dance for eighth-grade students, and wrote that the administrators in Charlotte are focused more on other concerns like SBAC standardized testing, planning building renovations, “maintaining health and safety of our staff and students,” “greeting and learning more” about next year’s kindergarteners, and hiring staff for next year.
Pinckney said that the school district is “following the state and CDC guidelines and we are planning activities that conform to those guidelines.” Bonnie Birdsall, CVSD director of digital learning and communication echoed Pinckney’s statement, writing, “We are not doing in-person large gatherings, but all schools are creating special experiences for the 8th graders. The bulk of the ‘formal’ ceremony will be a video shared with families and the community. I don’t have the specifics at this time, but know that principals are working on this with teachers and families.”
CDC guidelines and state guidelines currently permit larger gatherings and would not prohibit CCS from holding an in-person indoor or outdoor ceremony or dance. Effective June 1, the state’s Vermont Forward Plan mandates one unvaccinated person per 50 square feet, indoors, with up to 300 unvaccinated people, plus any number of vaccinated people as Universal Guidance spacing allows. (Universal Guidance requires three feet of distance for unvaccinated people, including children.) Outdoor guidelines will allow for900 unvaccinated people. There are 46 students in the CCS class of 2021.
Champlain Valley Union High School students will have an outdoor prom this year and an outdoor graduation ceremony at the Essex fairgrounds, similar to last year’s.
Dr. Lori Racha is a pediatrician and professor at the University of Vermont; her fourth and youngest child is in this year’s eighth grade class. She said on Wednesday that during a call with state covid policymakers, including pediatric infectious disease experts and Dr. Breena Holmes, she inquired about whether there was reason to restrict younger students’ group activities because they aren’t vaccinated yet. She said the experts said “there is no distinction between high school and middle school in terms of graduations and end-of-year celebrations/proms/dances.” She added, “I see no rational reason to prevent an in-person graduation and celebration dance outside at CCS where this group has had recess together without incident.”
Katie Taylor is a Charlotte parent of two boys. One graduated last year, when information about covid was still rapidly evolving, and her youngest is graduating this spring. “Last year, we were winging it,” she said. She disagrees with the school administrators that the 2020 graduation was special. Students were allotted times to show up, get out of their car, and receive their diplomas in front of the school. Eighth-grade parents were told this week that they would receive a time signup sheet via email soon.
“There was nothing ‘more meaningful’ about it,” Taylor said. “It was what we were told we could do. Though larger schools did way more ‘meaningful’ ceremonies than we did. This year, we have guidelines from the governor that give us much more freedom. We now know that kids really aren’t spreading the disease and that outdoors, transmission is negligible. If CVU is allowed a prom, we should be allowed an outdoor graduation and dance.”
Roth said that planning is still in the works, and with graduation five weeks away, “The school will put out information as it is available.”
Editor’s note: My middle son is in this year’s eighth-grade class at Charlotte Central School.