May 19, 2022

Op-Ed: Since Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Have Been Open All Year, Why Has OL Park & Rec. Summer Camp Been Cancelled?

Editor’s Note: This op-ed was submitted by Melissa Chapps of Old Lyme. It was updated May 10, at 1:40 p.m.

Being the only school district in the region to offer full-time, in-person learning, from the start of the school year, Old Lyme chose to be “all in”. In doing so, we have been the leader in how it is possible to safely reopen. We have been the model, not only to our neighboring towns, but to the State as a whole. We were the example for other towns to follow. We understood that this was vital for our children’s educational, social, and emotional development and pledged to do whatever it took. Hence with the tremendous effort of our entire community – our citizens, administrators, teachers, parents, and, most importantly, our children – we have gone above and beyond to make it happen.

Thus, with Connecticut recording not only its lowest COVID-19 positivity rate in weeks, but also the highest vaccination rates in the country, we were going into summer with a sense of confidence and optimism. The State is reopening, school sports have resumed, restaurant and social gathering restrictions lifted, masks mandates eased. Our new normal was emerging. And after such a challenging year, and the State’s emphasis on local, affordable summer programs, and making the accessibility of such options a top priority, children were looking forward to summer day camps …well, that is, except if you live in Old Lyme.

After being the leader all school year, and after our children proving that they can succeed indoors, Old Lyme now says that the risk of COVID-19 exceeds the benefits of offering its Parks and Recreation Summer Day Camp. The reality of it is they never seriously gave it much consideration to begin with. 

This lack of endeavoring was most evident in the recent Old Lyme’s Parks and Recreation Commission meeting as constituents were turned away and told that they could not physically attend a meeting that was listed as public on the town website, with the location listed as Meeting Hall on the town calendar, and verbally told by the Selectmen’s office that they could appear in person. We were shut out, left to watch from the windows, directed that we could only call in, as the Commission met inside, unmasked, in a room filled with empty chairs. To say we were bewildered was an understatement.

We were there for our children to show support in the reinstatement of the Summer Day Camp. And while we are thankful that the Commission insinuated that they are now open to entertaining ideas, it is marked by great skepticism. The fact that the Summer Day Camp program was not a top priority months ago is a shame and a true let-down by our leadership. We never imagined that our town, which proudly stood as a model all school year, would stop now, as the entire rest of the State paves the way. Our communal efforts thrown to the wayside. As parents, the thought that Old Lyme would not run its Summer Day Camp never even crossed our minds. The idea that we would abandon our “all in” philosophy just because the school year is over was unfathomable. That should have been reason enough to make sure it happened. 

While the Commission asserts that the risk of COVID-19 is far too great for the Summer Day Camp, these same concerns are obsolete when it comes to sports. The fact that so much energy has been, and continues to be, focused solely on ensuring the safe resumption of sport programs and the “fair” usage of our town facilities, from lacrosse to soccer to rowing, is hypocritical. The notion and seemingly justification, of having 225 children playing lacrosse, albeit not all together at the same time, but instead having contact with other children, from other communities, in the playing of such games, while advocating for the equal distribution of playing fields, even calling out other town’s “unwillingness”, thus necessitating us to play throughout the region, and then coming back into our schools and our community is “safer” than running our Summer Parks and Rec Day Camp is nonsensical.

And that is just one sport – it does not even take into account all the hundreds of contacts from all the other sports, from players to spectators, and consequential other points of contact from restaurants to stores, wherein the numbers in totality are virtually immeasurable. But then the Commission has the audacity to imply that contact tracing is only an impediment to the Summer Day Camp – this defies logic. It shows a true lack of rationale and undermines what is even of the Commission’s stated concern. 

The Commission then tried to briefly, and selectively, talk COVID facts, again with only reference to its effects on the Summer Day Camp, as if sport programs are somehow immune. They brought up outdated and inaccurate data, while mentioning recent articles in the paper about other towns, the same towns that we play all our sports in and vice versa. Perhaps they did not realize that in doing so they are not only undermining their agenda against the cancellation of the Summer Day Camp, but they are belittling our remarkable accomplishments, for yes, our neighboring towns have struggled, but this should only strengthen the call for our local Summer Day Camp.

And perhaps they are not aware that many of us actually work on the frontlines and know the real data firsthand. They also failed to examine the toll COVID-19 has had on our children’s mental and emotional health – and how the research overwhelming demonstrates that the continuation of social and enrichment programs, such as the Summer Day Camp, is so desperately needed throughout the summer.

As such, we would like to offer some viable options to implement to ensure the successful and safe reopening of our Summer Day Camp. We can look at the actions our schools and of our children who have proven they can do it – and no, we do not have to worry about them “hugging” as one Commission member tried to use as an excuse. Our children have exemplified all school year they have what it takes to make this possible. We can also look to how our neighboring towns, who once looked to us, are running their programs. We present these options as a starting point and welcome the Commission to build upon them:

  • Push back start date and end date by 1 week
  • Reduce/Limit the number of attendees
  • Restrict residency in that Old Lyme Parks and Rec. Summer Day Camp would be for Old Lyme residents only, and Lyme Parks and Rec. would have to run their own program separately for their residents
  • Use cohorts wherein children are grouped together by grade groups with limited number of children per group
  • Utilize all the town facilities, not just the high school, but all schools and parks
  • Have a large pavilion-style tent for rainy days activities while splitting/rotating gymnasium usage at said locations
  • Require that all employees must be vaccinated
  • Utilize and collaborate with the Ledge Light Health District for contact tracing and inquire about PPE needs and availability
  • Require not only that all children wear masks, but they must provide backups
  • Increase enrollment cost – even though our surplus from last year should cover much of any added expense
  • Ask for volunteers and community involvement of participating families; The residents of Old Lyme have a strong communal foundation, and many would happily give their time and/or resources, donate PPE and cleaning supplies, and more – this is supported by the over 130 signatures collected in support of running our Summer Day Camp 

In closing, we think it is important to note that we are in no way trying to suggest that sport programs should not run, but instead we are trying to uphold equality for all programs. The Parks and Recreation Summer Day Camp was the only safe, affordable, and consistent program for the children within the community, to stay within the community all summer long. And the only sustainable option of those children who do not play sports. By sending our children to different weekly camps throughout the region, it is not only significantly more costly, but we are also expanding our exposure and putting our children, their families, and the community at undue risk

As a community we should stand together and acknowledge the social, emotional, and psychological impact that all our local programs have on our youths. They need this now more than ever. 

It is our hope that we can work together for the betterment and empowerment of our collective community.

Let us be “all in” together.