School official: Quick removal of masks for graduating class photo was an anomaly

GRADUATING CLASS: The graduating class of Father Duenas Memorial School students take a group photo at their graduation ceremony at the Father Duenas Phoenix Center Wednesday in Mangilao. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

A picture circulating on social media has raised some community concern over social distancing measures being followed at graduation ceremonies.

Father Duenas Memorial School kicked off this year's graduation season with a ceremony May 5.

While the ceremony went off without a hitch, with graduates and their family members wearing masks, and socially distanced by each graduate's family, it’s what occurred after the ceremony that raised concerns.

A picture circulating on social media shows the FDMS graduating senior class gathering for a group photo on the stage. Many of the graduates removed their masks for the class photo on the stage, while they stood shoulder to shoulder.

The Guam Daily Post spoke with Superintendent of Catholic Schools Juan Flores about the photograph – after the Department of Public Health and Social Services inquired about it. He said that it may have been an anomaly of the night.

“I think what happened was kind of an anomaly for the night because I was there. I wasn’t in the room when the picture was taken, but I know before the picture was taken and right after the picture was taken, all the guys had their masks on,” Flores said.

He said it was done quickly and didn’t think anyone was milling around without their face masks.

“I think they only took their masks off right before the picture was taken and then put their masks back on. It must have been three, four minutes because I just stepped out of the room to help the archbishop, and when I came back, it was done,” Flores said.

He said nothing was done to disregard the social distancing measures purposefully.

“I have to review the protocols, but I don’t remember a protocol saying that we could not have a group picture. I will review it again. I am definitely convinced that nothing was done to try to defy the spirit of trying to observe the protocols in light of the pandemic and in light of what Public Health has asked us to do,” Flores said.

Flores said he is more concerned with protocols regarding people leaving the ceremonies, noting that there are some areas school officials would like to improve as more Catholic school graduations are lined up for May.

But for the most part, he said, the school did its best to adhere to the protocols as expected.

Flores confirmed that he spoke with Public Health Director Art San Agustin regarding the matter.

Department of Public Health and Social Services spokeswoman Janela Carrera said Public Health officials are aware of the photograph and have reached out.

“I first emailed Mr. San Agustin earlier today, and he called me. What we discussed is that we’re going to make sure that there are a couple of things to improve on to make sure that all of the protocols do get followed,” Flores said.

That means reminders will be given to families and ceremony attendees and faculty and staff to follow protocols at the events.

“I can reassure them that, first of all, that the preparations were there to make sure that the school is ready for the ceremony. That in light of everything we have been going through, even if things have eased up on the island, that we still were very adamant about following the protocols that will prevent the transmission of the virus,” said Flores.

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