Fairfield school board approves in-person graduation at Jennings Beach

FAIRFIELD — After a month of planning and revising, the Board of Education approved plans for graduation ceremonies for the two high schools: in-person ceremonies at Jennings Beach with activities projected on two large screens while most kids stay in their cars until their homeroom is called.

Masks will be required; students lining up will stand at least six feet apart.

In the Tuesday night meeting, Superintendent of Schools Mike Cummings said the end result represents the best of the ideas that came forward. He said the process was a great example of the town pulling together for a common goal.

Paul Cavanna, the headmaster at Warde High School, said he, Ludlowe High School Headmaster Greg Hatzis, the town and their schools graduation committees put a lot of work into the planning.

“In a two high school town, you always have a friendly rivalry,” Cavanna said. “But when the stakes are high and we come together, it is a beautiful thing. I’m really looking forward to good weather and a great ceremony.”

Through the teleconference call, board member Jennifer Jacobsen cried as she thanked the headmasters for the work they had done to put the ceremonies together.

“Now we’re all going to start crying... it’s been such an emotional journey on this topic,” board Chairman Christine Vitale said.

The board voted unanimously to support the plans, which came after multiple iterations as school and town officials tried to strike a balance between tradition and safety in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The complete plans the Warde High School and Ludlowe High School graduations were put out in letters to students and their families late last week.

Ludlowe High School Headmaster Greg Hatzis said both graduations will be hosted at Jennings Beach, with Ludlowe’s ceremony taking place on June 16 and Warde’s on June 17. The rain date for both ceremonies is June 18.

Hatzis said the graduations will be styled after a drive-in movie theater, with the activities taking place on stage being projected onto two large screens. He said names and speeches will be broadcast using an FM radio transmitter and asked that attendees bring battery powered radios to listen.

The headmaster said the ceremonies will be held at 8 p.m. to allow better viewing on the 40-foot jumbo screens. He said students will be called by homeroom and stand six feet apart before walking across the stage to collect a diploma envelope.

Hatzis said students will only be allowed out of their cars when they are called up, adding that all those in attendance must wear face masks.

Board member Jennifer Maxon Kennelly said there was excitement in the community for what the ceremonies could turn out to be.

“For you to have achieved that, not just compliance but excitement, I thank you so much for partnering with all the people that you did,” she said.

Board member Jennifer Leeper asked the headmasters if neighbors in the area were going to be notified about the events. Hatzis said they would send out a phone notification to neighbors close to the dates of the ceremonies.

Board member Jeff Peterson asked how much the commencements would cost compared with what was budgeted for them. He said Warde’s and Ludlowe’s ceremonies were budgeted for $17,000 and $24,000, respectively, asking if there was a possibility the school system would see a net savings.

Hatzis said because the schools were renting the equipment on such short notice and asking the vendors to keep it on site for multiple days, it would be more expensive.

“I know we all want to be fiscally responsible and that’s important, but our seniors have lost so much and we worked so hard with them... that this is just an important event,” Hatzis said. “We are so close to the finish line that we just need to do it to the best of our ability.”