Photo: Graduating students at Harris Field on Sunday. (credit: Instagram)
The director of the Belmont Health Department is condemning a pair of events held on Sunday, June 7 in which large numbers of Belmont High School students and adults staged an unsanctioned graduation celebration on school property and attended a house party in apparent violation of town and state health codes created to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Calling the actions “disrespectful and frustrating,” Health Department Director Wesley Chin said while Sunday was a time for big celebrations, “we just want to encouraged people to do the right thing during this difficult time.”
Chin is advising students and adults who attended these events to be tested for COVID-19 if they begin showing symptoms associated with the virus.
“It’s something we believe that is owned to the community to help keep everyone safe and healthy,” Chin told the Select Board at its virtual meeting on Monday, June 8.
Chin was informed of the events on Monday by concerned residents who viewed a number of photos and a video of the events circulating on the internet, which were characterized to Chin as reckless, grossly inappropriate and irresponsible during a pandemic.
Occurring soon after the end of the broadcast of the Belmont High graduation which was held virtually due to the pandemic, photos on the social media platform Instagram showed about 50 students and adults at Harris Field and at a large outdoor party with approximately 70 residents held Sunday night in which rules concerning social distancing, a limit on groups of more than 10 and wearing masks were ignored.
Note: The identity of those in the photos and names found online are being protected as they are not facing any charges.
The photos show typical graduation-type scenes with lineups of friends and sports teammates in caps and gowns linking arms and posing. Several of the young men are seen with cigars – an annual Belmont tradition at the post-ceremony family reunion – and in one video a bottle with carbonated liquid is opened by a student and the contents sprayed on his fellow students.
Photos from the party also shows students drinking alcohol in the presence of adults. While Massachusetts General Laws allows people under the age of 21 to consume alcohol on private premises with the consent of a parent or grandparent, that permission does not include non-family members.
Smoking and alcohol are banned at Harris Field.
The events come a few weeks after a large number of parents and some students protested a joint decision by the district and town limiting graduation celebrations to remote and virtual events due to safety and health concerns due to the COVID-19 virus.
Chin said the seemingly preplanned event at Harris Field mocked the long hours spent by 10 town departments, including fire, police, public works, and the school administration “who planned a safe and thoughtful graduation,” said Chin.
The Select Board joined Chin in denouncing the activity of the participants.
“To ignore the very reasonable asks that we’re making of people is just a bad practice … especially if parents are facilitating large groups who are not respecting social distancing is pretty bad,” said Chair Roy Epstein.