District changes spectator policy for winter sports and concerts after protest at school board meeting


PMHS basketball home court

Thirty high school basketball players and their parents attended the Pelham school board meeting Wednesday to protest the district’s limit of two spectators per player at each game. Two days later, interim Superintendent Dr. Dennis Lauro changed the policy to allow more attendees at secondary school games and winter concerts.

For events at the Pelham Middle School gym, Pelham Memorial High School auditorium and the Ice Hutch, students and adults will be allowed in on a first-come, first-serve basis up to the maximum capacity permitted by social distancing, Lauro wrote in an email sent at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

“There will be a student section in the middle school gym bleachers with three-feet distancing and an adult section with six-feet distancing, which will allow approximately 132 spectators given the respective distancing for adults and students (44 adults at six-feet distancing and 88 students at three-feet distancing),” he wrote.

The gym floor will be used when available, supporters of opposing teams will be allowed subject to distancing requirements and school security will track attendees and may allow in more people based on available space, the email said. All spectators will be required to wear masks.

“Thank you to everyone who attended Wednesday night’s board of education meeting and shared their thoughts on the district’s spectator policy at concerts/sporting events,” Lauro said. “It is clear that we have a shared goal of maximizing attendance of students and community members at these events while maintaining a safe environment for all and keeping within the established guidelines from the New York State Department of Health.”

Parents, players speak

During the public comment period of Wednesday’s school board meeting, Christine Nicholas, whose daughter is on the girls varsity basketball team, highlighted what she called the board’s “issue with transparency.” She said she wanted an explanation, and that many parents and students “don’t feel like they are a part of the process.”

“There is not any sort of reasoning of limiting spectators to this extent,” said PMHS senior Caroline Garufi, a captain on the girls varsity team. Having spectators “allows students to come together by way of a common goal.” She said the team is “definitely willing to come up with a solution.” 

“I ask for some consistency,” said Charlie Parent, a member of the boys varsity basketball team, referring to the mask-less, social-distance-less hockey games that take place at the Ice Hutch.

Erin Coffer, whose son is also on the boys team, said the two-spectator-per-student rule was built upon the “traditional philosophy of two parents per student,” noting that some students’ families might not fall into those parameters. “This virus is here to stay,” she said. “We have to come up with solutions so that we can live our lives.”   

After the public comment, Trustee Michael Owen-Michaane said it was best to “have the Covid-19 oversight committee meet soon and help with the decision-making for more spectators.” He and Trustee Ian Rowe did not want to leave the conversation unfinished after the statements from the public, leading to cheering from the audience filled with about 30 athletes and their parents. It is the board’s two-year-old “practice” not to respond to questions or comments from the public during the meeting.

Board President Jessica DeDomenico tabled the discussion and said it was “clear that this has not been communicated clearly.” She encouraged anyone with further concerns to email her directly.

Denies appeal of suspension

At the meeting, the school board voted 6-1 to deny a parent appeal of the superintendent’s decision on a student suspension. Neither the student nor the length of the suspension were disclosed. Rowe voted against denying the appeal, while DeDomenico and Owen-Michaane and trustees Sue Bratone Childs, John Brice, Vincent Mazzaro and Leah Tahbaz voted to deny it.

The motion on the denial, as read by DeDomenico, said, “Resolved that the board of education hereby denies the parents’ appeal of the superintendent’s level of suspension hearing, made by their attorney’s letter in terms of determination on the charges.”

Following the board’s business meeting, it held a work session on innovative learning spaces, particularly in the new Hutchinson Elementary School. The work session included a presentation led by Dr. Steven Garcia, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and personnel, and was kicked off with a “scavenger hunt” guided tour to explore the 25 different configurations of desks throughout Hutch. The modified seating arrangements are designed to promote an interactive-learning experience among the students and their peers, as well as their teachers.

Instructional technology specialist Alicia DelMastro said teachers at Hutchinson went on a similar hunt a few weeks before. “We were able to walk around, look at each other’s classrooms, get ideas and problem solve together,” DelMastro said.

When asked what goes into setting up a classroom, Prospect Hill Elementary School fifth grade teacher Emily Kaiser said, “A lot of it depends on what we’re going to be teaching. It’s very important that the furniture doesn’t drive it, but the instruction drives it.”

The next board of education meeting will be held on Dec. 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pelham Middle School library. 

(Editor’s note: Charlie Parent is an assistant managing editor/sports of the Pelham Examiner. He did not contribute to the writing or editing of this story.)