Parker High School Class of 2020 members Aliyah Easter and Icie Ellison performed their own graduation ceremony Friday night outside Monterey Stadium.
Their best friend, Tatyanna Manuel, who graduated last year, played “Pomp and Circumstance” on the car stereo and called out their names.
The girls whooped and laughed and thought about what might have been.
“It’s just sad because they were at my graduation ceremony, and I was looking forward to joining theirs, but COVID-19 affected the world,” Manuel said.
“I wanna walk the stage!” Easter said, echoing the thoughts of many.
“I’ve been waiting 18 years for this, and out of nowhere, I’m going to be graduating over a computer screen,” Ellison said.
They were among the dozens—maybe hundreds—of students from Craig and Parker high schools and their parents and friends who came to Monterey or to the athletic fields at the high schools at 8 p.m. Friday night.
Craig and Parker athletic directors Ben McCormick and Clayton Kreger arranged for the floodlights at the stadium and the schools to be turned on as part of the national #BeTheLight campaign to encourage communities experiencing a graduation spring like none other in the country’s history.
Schools are closed statewide through at least April 24. No school sports or any other activities can happen until and unless school resumes, and no one knows when that might be.
“Our Janesville community has always supported Parker and Craig High Schools, and we turned on the lights for 20 minutes and 20 seconds as a symbol of support and hope for our community and to honor the seniors,” Kreger wrote in an email.
“It was awesome to see all of the support on social media, families joining from their cars, and the many porch lights lit up around the town,” Kreger said.
The Delavan-Darien School District held a similar event Friday, according to the district’s Facebook page.
Mitchell Schumann, middle linebacker for the Craig football team, said he wanted to see Monterey lit up.
“This is kind of a second home,” he said. “This is kind of a closing thing for me.”
Asked for a message for his classmates, he said, “I hope everybody is staying well at this time, and we’ll all get through this together.”
Tara Troemel drove to Monterey because her twin Parker Class of 2020 daughters, Tamara and Tabitha, were at work at Janesville restaurants.
“They’ve been working their tails off through all of this,” Troemel said.
The Troemel twins had planned to be in New York City this week on the school’s biennial choir trip.
Troemel said Tabitha is “over it,” seeing graduation as something for her mother and grandparents, while Tamara is more upset about missing year-end traditions like prom and graduation.
Emily Klein, president of Craig’s Class of 2020, said she, her principal and others are still planning a graduation ceremony. If they can’t have a traditional ceremony June 4, they’ll likely do something everyone can see on their devices, and then there would be a ceremony later in the summer, she said.
Klein noted seniors won’t get to do the graduation traditions, such as the Senior Walk, when students visit their old elementary schools, and the senior picnic.
“I’ve gotten emotional about it a lot,” Klein said. “I’ve tried not to think about it as much.”
Plans are in the works to paint the rock in front of Craig starting in May, with numbers indicating a countdown to June 4. Klein expects there will be a lot of selfies taken there.
The class bought signs to be placed at seniors’ homes with messages of encouragement, Klein said.
The lights dimmed at Monterey after the picture-taking of the empty field, greetings to friends, and the reflections on the past and the future. Then the cars moved off into the night.
Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag said the city’s front line employees—police, firefighters and medics—for now have an ample supply of personal protective gear they need to do their jobs in the COVID-19 crisis.
But what Freitag says is a continued dearth of information and lack of transparency from Rock County health officials leaves city leaders in the dark and hampers help he said the city might offer in the local battle against a COVID-19.
Freitag, a retired U.S. Army colonel, compares the local fight against the disease to military combat.
The following are answers Freitag gave during an interview Friday to questions posed by The Gazette by email Thursday:
Gazette: The city council is considering a resolution Monday to urge Rock County to share more information about COVID-19 cases with the city. What are your thoughts about that?
Freitag: Freitag expressed continued frustration over the stance of Rock County government officials that clearer information on individual COVID-19 infections could compromise federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act restrictions designed to protect personal privacy.
He said the county health department continues to be unwilling to share information with city officials about COVID-19 cases—including how many Janesville infections there are and whether specific neighborhoods in the city, large workplaces or nursing facilities have been identified as COVID-19 infection “hot spots.”
Freitag said the city’s lawyers believe the release of such information is not a violation of HIPAA rules.
“I could help educate that neighborhood, facilities or business. If necessary, if a lack of (personal protective equipment) was a problem associated with a hot spot, I could help provide additional PPEs or at least connect them with vendors that have PPE,” Freitag said.
“It’s a losing proposition and effort not to share that information because it’s not helping the common goal of preventing spread in our community. And so I consider the issue extremely frustrating. And, you know, I’m hopeful that we’ll see a change in (the county’s position).”
Gazette: The city says it’s tracking how much PPE it has for first responders. What are those numbers specifically?
Freitag: The city’s police employees have a 26- or 27-day supply of N95-type masks and gloves, the two most vital pieces of protective equipment they need. The city’s fire department has about a 33-day supply of masks and enough pairs of gloves to last about 115 days. The department also has enough isolation gowns to last nearly four months.
Freitag said even though a federal stockpile of COVID-19 protective gear is reportedly now “tapped out,” he’s “comfortable where we’re at as of today” with the city’s stock of equipment, and the city has a system to level stock among its police, fire and public works employees as needed.
Gazette: The city has tracked expenses for its emergency operations center’s COVID-19 response. Thus far, what has been spent, and what is that money being used for?
Freitag: The city has spent $775,000 “and some change” on the EOC’s COVID-19 activities. Freitag said the “vast majority” of that spending will be reimbursed by state and federal funding. The bulk of that spending came recently when the city purchased a $580,000 surge shelter that would be used to support both private hospitals in the city if they become overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“You pray you never have to use (a surge shelter), but you want to make sure you’ve got it if it becomes needed. No one will feel bad for you if you don’t have it,” he said.
Other costs have come through staff time on COVID-19 response, which Freitag said is an allowable expense through U.S. Department of Homeland Security rules. Other costs have come through purchase of health protective gear and additional electronic equipment needed to run the city’s EOC.
Other spending could come later, Freitag said, if the city must help nonprofit agencies provide food or water and if the city must find day care services for employees to maintain necessary staffing levels.
Gazette: What services have the city stopped or scaled back?
Freitag: City operations and services that have been suspended during the COVID-19 crisis include the Janesville Transit System’s “tripper service,” which mainly buses local students. Recreational facilities closed include park playground equipment, city-run golf and disc golf courses, the ice arena, Hedberg Public Library, and the senior center.
Gazette: Has the city imposed layoffs or furloughs like what is occurring in the private sector?
Freitag: No. Not yet. The pandemic, however, will affect the city’s normal spring “hiring surge” for seasonal public works employees.
For now, some employees who are “underutilized” during the health crisis are being assigned other duties where needed. During Tuesday’s election, for instance, workers from the library and housing services division pitched in at polling places and at the clerk-treasurer’s office.
“I am doubtful that we will have to go down that (layoff or furlough) path, but certainly it’s an option. I think the difference between some local businesses and city employees is that we’re expected to continue to provide all of these services across the city,” Freitag said.
Jeffrey S. Dampier
Doris J. Ferger
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Kathryn L. Platson