Rec Summer Camps cancelled; stay tuned for decision on fields and future programming

Southborough Recreation has cancelled all of its Summer Camps for this season. The decision was made for the safety of campers, staff (including teen counselors), and their families.

Last night, Rec issued word (and reimbursement promises) to families that had already registered for camp. The department asked me to share that news with readers. The cancellation comes with the stated hope that some kind of community programs will be offered down the road. But a camp type format is off the table this summer.

Last night, Recreation Director Tim Davis said that his department had played through every scenario they could think of. Everything came back to “is this safe?” He said he was very sensitive to how hard this decision would be on parents. In the end, it’s what they believe is the greater good for the town.

The decision was was supported by the Recreation Commission last night. It came at Davis’s recommendation after consulting with staff, the Board of Health, Town officials, and colleagues.

Rec had been waiting for details on the state’s phased reopening plan. Yesterday’s release only provided a fuzzy timeline for when camps could reopen and lacked guidance on what they would look like and what would be required when they can open. Meanwhile, the “best practices” published by American Camp Association and YMCA outlined requirements that would be too difficult for young camp staff.

For more details on that and more, scroll down for my highlights from last night’s Rec Commission meeting.

First, here’s the announcement from Recreation Director Tim Davis:

I am writing today to share the unfortunate news that Southborough Recreation has made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 Summer Day Camp Season. This decision was made completely out of the health and safety concern for the children and families of Southborough.

Over the last 4-6 weeks the Recreation Department have worked with local, state, and national associations to understand the impact COVID-19 will have on Summer Camps throughout the Commonwealth and country. Our staff has planned, discussed, and played out every scenario in which we may be able to hold our traditional program. It has become clear to us in the last few days that this would simply not be possible. Even with a reopening plan announced, there is still a lack of standardized safety guidelines and practices to be implemented by our staff. The risks have continued to outweigh the benefits.

The Recreation Department will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation, State’s reopening efforts, and public health data as we continue towards summer. It is our hope to offer community programs in some form as we settle into this new normal. Any individual who is currently registered for summer camp will be issued a full refund. Please allow the Recreation Department 8-10 business days to complete this process.

We thank you for your patience and understanding throughout this entire process. The Recreation Department was excited to bring many new opportunities this summer to our camp families, and we will continue to build upon those for the 2021 season.

In his message to me, Davis recommended the public watch last night’s Recreation Commission discussion. You can do that here. Or you can read my summary below.

Last night, both Davis and Program Director Alex Officer noted their personal disappointment. Davis noted that he got into his career based on his experiences as a young camp counselor. Officer had worked at the camps for years. She said, “I love them more than anything, but just there’s so much uncertainty.” In speaking to the staff hired to run camps this summer, she heard their fear. 

Davis and Officer agreed that if they were going to hold a camp, they should be able to adhere to best practices, rather than just the lower level guidelines for good or better practices. One of the demands that “best practices” would have put on their teen staff is cleaning bathrooms between each use.*

Rec Commissioners Kristin LaVault said that she wouldn’t ask the department to put themselves in a position that they were uncomfortable with. 

LaVault and Jen Hansen both asked if there was a way to support parents who need camps for when they return to work.

Davis said they had a full camp staff that had been hired. He had thought of recommending them as babysitters. He decided it could be a liability. Instead, they’ll be pointing people to Facebook groups and other ways not associated with Rec for people to find out about babysitters. Hansen followed that she read that the state’s daycare program was only at 30% capacity.

Commissioners asked about possible programs like socially distanced outdoor yoga or a RAP-like sport program. Commissioner Donald Dumont said that at this point parents would throw their kids at anything they could offer. 

Officer worried about holding alternative small programs in public spaces, like by a playground. If you hold a limited number program and someone drops off their kids to play, you’ve exceeded the number of people allowed. She noted that she had been losing sleep trying to come up with something that works.

A repeated concern was the lack of clarity on what would be allowed and when. Opening of camps is targeted for “phase 2” of the state’s plan. When that will happen is based on how well Phase 1 works. Hansen pointed out that it seems as if the Governor is releasing information the day it becomes effective. That makes planning ahead difficult.

Right now, Rec will be focusing on trying to offer some versions of their previously planned Summer Concerts and outdoor movies series. They will also continue to monitor the situation to see what they can safely offer.

Virtual programming is unlikely, except as continuing to support programs offered by the Library. Among the 258 respondents to Rec’s summer camp survey, only 18% said they would consider virtual programs. (As for regular camp, Davis said it was fairly split with about 47% wanting to send kids and the rest saying no or maybe.)

During the discussion, Davis shared that Northborough was also cancelling its Summer Camp and there were rumors that Westborough and Shrewsbury would be doing the same. Departments are worried about causing, and being blamed for, infection spread in their towns. That doesn’t mean all area towns will. He said that some colleagues’ departments depend on the camp and cancelling it would result in furloughing staff.

Davis acknowledged that the cancellation of programs is a “financial hit” to his department. They will have to look at other ways of making it up.

On another note, the phased state plan allows for playing fields and courts to reopen on May 25th. (Though, not playgrounds, because of the high touch hard surfaces.) 

Last night the Commission voted to “empower” Davis to make a decision to open the fields after “final consultation” with selectmen. The Commission’s vote included their support for reopening. But Davis will also check in with the Board of Health and the public safety chiefs before talking to selectmen.

If fields are reopened, some adjacent playgrounds will be challenging and need to be monitored. (The public has already apparently torn down some of the yellow tape.)

As for allowing permits for use of fields for sport practice, that isn’t included under Phase 1 of reopening.

*The ACA and YMCA hired Environmental Health & Engineering, to put together a “Field Guide for Camps on Implementation of CDC Guidance“. On page 48, the sanitation best practices call for cleaning high touch surfaces such as toilets and bathrooms between each use. (Good practice calls for once a day and etter practice for more than once per day.)

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