Holyoke superintendent steps in with graduation options

  • Holyoke High School, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2020 12:53:49 PM

HOLYOKE — As Monday evening’s School Committee meeting got underway, it was clear many students and parents were angry.

“I find it absolutely unprofessional that you constantly promised us so much,” one senior said in written comments. “We have already lost so much due to the coronavirus, please don’t give us this for graduation, too,” another student pleaded.

Frustrated families flooded the committee’s public comment period, upset over an announcement Holyoke High School Principal Stephen Mahoney made Saturday, over Instagram, that a drive-through graduation would take place on Aug. 2 at Holyoke Community College. That announcement came after the school community waited months to hear when and how graduation would take place after promises of an in-person ceremony.

The news also came amid other end-of-year complications that have piled up during the COVID-19 pandemic and the unique circumstances it has created: missing diplomas, which have caused headaches for those who need them to move on to the next chapter of their lives; unfinished yearbooks; and scholarship money that the district still hasn’t sent out to students, some of whom need to relay information about that financial aid to their colleges.

Several School Committee members voiced vexation about the status of graduation and communication about it. At-large member Erin Brunelle questioned how it could be that an outdoor graduation isn’t safe enough, but having people back in school buildings on Aug. 31 is.

“This information is not coming out properly, and I’m angry and frustrated about it like most families,” said Ward 3 School Committee member Rebecca Birks, herself a parent of a Holyoke High senior. At-large member Devin Sheehan also described it as a “poor communication moment.”

In response, new receiver-superintendent Alberto Vázquez Matos, who was not part of the decision-making process regarding the ceremony, said he spoke with neighboring districts about how they conducted graduations. He also said he was developing a survey presenting families with two options: a live graduation on the high school football field with a staggered schedule, or a separate location where more people can be together.

“By tomorrow afternoon, there will be a letter from me going out to the high school families and seniors of option A and option B, what would that look like, and would you like to participate or not,” Vázquez Matos said Monday.

It is unclear what graduation will ultimately look like, but from Vázquez Matos’ comments, it appears a drive-through ceremony is no longer in the works.

The district will be submitting plans to the city Board of Public Health based on the survey results, VázquezMatos said at the meeting, for whatever ceremony occurs on Aug. 2. He said city officials have said they will work quickly to approve any plans the district puts forward.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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