BALDWINSVILLE, N.Y. — A group photo of Baker High School seniors posing together on the first day of school — with no masks or social distancing — is sparking concern among some parents and district officials.
The photo, shared on Facebook and Instagram before people posting it took it down, shows 48 smiling Baldwinsville district students posing next to each other under a pavilion at a park Wednesday morning.
No one is wearing masks, and no one is distanced in the photo. The caption on one post said the photo was taken at Kerri Hornaday Park in Baldwinsville’s Radisson development and reads; “First Day of School … Senior Breakfast. Let the traditions begin.”
High school students gathering for a group photo does not appear to be an isolated incident. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon at his daily briefing Thursday expressed his concern after seeing a similar group photo from a different district that county officials did not identify.
The students gathering without masks or social distancing comes the same week that most schools in Central New York and across the state are trying to reopen classrooms amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Schools have dramatically changed with students and staff wearing masks, and people being spaced apart in classrooms and on buses in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. Hybrid schedules with some in-person and some distance learning are being used in most districts because there isn’t enough room for everyone to be in a classroom with people safely distancing from each other.
Baldwinsville school officials said Thursday the senior breakfast where the photo was taken was not a school-sanctioned event and was not on school grounds. The photo was brought to the administration’s attention by concerned parents.
Superintendent Matthew McDonald said in a statement in response to questions from Syracuse.com | The Post-Standard that he is concerned and is addressing the situation with the high school leadership team.
“We can’t control how students behave outside of school, but we hope that they will make better choices,” McDonald said in the statement. “My goal is to keep our students safe and keep them in school.”
Asked if the students will be allowed to attend classes after gathering so closely, district officials said the district doesn’t disclose personal student information.
“The administration at Baker High School will be addressing our concerns about this type of behavior with students and families,” the statement said. “The district will continue to educate all its students on safe choices and the impact their actions have on their own well-being and the safety of others. We have to work together.”
Baldwinsville parent Eric Willis, who said his son was part of the gathering at the park, defended the students, saying the kids shouldn’t be bullied on social media for posing for the photo.
“The senior class does this once a year at that park,” he said. “They didn’t realize it was going to have the turnout that it did. It usually is a small group from the neighborhood and then more kids showed up.”
The seniors are already dealing with a year unlike any other, Willis said, with many seniors events likely to be canceled.
Willis said the teens are responsible people who were just excited to get a class picture on the first day of school. (Under Baldwinsville’s hybrid schedule, some students started Wednesday; others start next week.)
“They are kids,” he said. “They didn’t do the right thing, and maybe they made a bad decision, but they are kids and they just wanted a photo of their class.”
Some parents on social media expressed surprise and dismay at the students gathering so closely for the photo, and worried that it will jeopardize students’ in-person instruction.
Gina Tonello, the mother of a junior, said she is upset that this endangers other kids and could jeopardize the in-person instruction.
“The school has been so good and is trying so hard,” she said. “This undermines all that.”
Elizabeth Doran covers education, suburban government and development, breaking news and more. Got a tip, comment or story idea? Contact her anytime at 315-470-3012 or email [email protected]
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