Twenty-twenty began like any other year but would prove to be anything but ordinary. A global pandemic rocked nearly all aspects of life and exacerbated an already contentious political climate. Racial tensions soared following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis in May. It was a year filled with protests and riots. Phrases like “social distancing” and “the new normal” became a regular part of the vernacular. Many adults and children worked and learned from home. Essential workers became heroes. More than 2.24 million people worldwide and over 400,000 Americans succumbed to COVID-19. It was a busy time globally and within local communities as well.
The year began with Ryan Lynch being named as the new Assistant Superintendent for Silver Lake. Lynch joined newly promoted Superintendent Jill Proulx. In a bit of fun news from the past year, Halifax resident Susan Hill appeared as a contestant on Jeopardy in February. Another bright spot in an oftentimes dreary year was Silver Lake Regional High School senior and now graduate Alexa Connors claiming two MIAA Div. 1 state titles as a member of the school’s swim team.
The towns of Plympton and Halifax grappled with where and when to safely hold their town meetings and town elections. In addition to concerns over COVID-19, towns also had to contend with the threat posed by mosquito-borne illnesses like Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). Plympton utilized multiple rooms at the Dennett Elementary School to hold their town meeting on June 17 and moved forward with their town election on June 20 after ensuring multiple safety protocols were in place for both. Halifax scheduled and rescheduled their town meeting many times over before finally holding it at Halifax Elementary School over the course of September 12 and September 22.
Residents voted in record numbers both locally and nationally in several elections this past year including the presidential general election in November. Halifax voted in favor of Donald Trump by a slim margin of 49.4 percent to 48.5 percent. Plympton favored eventual winner and now President Joseph Biden by a margin of less than three percentage points. Locally, incumbent Kathy LaNatra overcame Halifax resident Summer Schmaling in a close contest for Representative in General Court for the 12th Plymouth District. Both Plympton and Halifax voted yes to the Right to Repair question while voting no on the question of ranked choice voting.
There were a number of changes to appointed positions in both towns in 2020 as well as the early days of 2021. Notable results from the elections held over the summer included Alan Dias besting Ashley DiSesa for a spot on the Halifax Planning Board and Highway Surveyor incumbent Steven Hayward besting challenger Michael J. Schlieff to maintain his position. Longtime Selectman Troy Garron won re-election to a three-year term. In Plympton, Mark Russo won re-election to the Board of Selectmen and would go on to be named Chair. Daniel Cadogen was also voted into a position on the Plympton Elementary School Committee.
Following resignations, Lukasz Kowalksi and Emily Davis were named as new members of the Silver Lake Regional School Committee from Plympton and Kingston respectively. Paula Hatch replaced Jason Fraser as the Chair of the Regional School Committee. In November, Ashley DiSesa was named as the newest member of the Halifax Elementary School Committee. Also, in November, Colleen Thompson was named as the new Council on Aging Director for Plympton. Former Assistant Town Clerk Susan Lawless completed her first year as the Director of the Halifax Council on Aging after being appointed in December of 2019.
Following their abrupt closure in March, the schools grappled with how to continue to educate while maintaining the safety of both students and staff. Teachers and administrators scrambled to continue to provide necessary services including the need for free lunches for many eligible students. They worked throughout the summer to gather community input and assess all aspects of a possible reopening plan. Schools looked at how many students could fit on a bus and how many desks could fit into a classroom with proper distancing. Polices were put into place to limit the possible spread of the virus. Air quality tests were run and new equipment was purchased when necessary. All scenarios were weighed carefully, always with the safety and security of the staff and students in mind. In the end, all Silver Lake schools opened in a hybrid model sending students back in Cohorts who would divide their time between remote and in-person learning. In a piece of good news, despite numerous cases in students and staff at the schools, the evidence does not point to there being any in school spread.
Both Halifax and Plympton held peaceful protests over the summer in the name of racial injustice. Plympton organizer Amy Laura Cahn described the event as “a vigil for George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, Tony Mcdade, and all Black Americans slain by racial violence and injustice, including police brutality and the pandemic.” At the event on June 14 in Plympton residents took a knee for 8 minutes and 36 seconds in protest of George Floyd’s killing. Seventeen-year-old Jay Cline organized the event in Halifax on Saturday, June 6 that saw a few hundred people peacefully gather at the intersection of Routes 58 and 106.
Looking forward to the promise of a new year, there are signs of hope on the horizon. Vaccine development and rollout provides the first glimmer of an end to the pandemic that has poked holes in everything once seen as normal. Many healthcare workers and first responders have already been vaccinated in Plympton and Halifax. May 2021 bring healing to the physical, emotional, and financial struggles of the previous year.