A ‘kick in the stomach’ — NJ won’t allow gatherings for graduation
"Wave parades" remain OK for an individual high school graduate and immediate family members to watch loved ones in vehicles driving by, state officials said Monday, clarifying remarks made over the weekend.
But there should be no assembling of graduates in-person, anywhere in New Jersey, during the pandemic, State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan said.
Guidelines issued this past weekend have been met with a fresh wave of despair among the state's collective Class of 2020.
"I think it was the right decision to suggest that we not bring students and their families together, although it is very disappointing," New Jersey Association of School Administrators Executive Director Richard Bozza said.
"We had hoped to conduct some type of in-person, socially distance modified graduation ceremony for our seniors, but unfortunately, the latest guidance from the state has eliminated that as an option. Instead, our six high schools will have virtual ceremonies on June 24," Freehold Regional Schools Superintendent Charles Sampson said.
"Personally, I am against it and it feels like another kick in the stomach for the 'Class of 2020.' We will move forward with the virtual graduation so we have something, but I am still hoping restrictions get loosened," Central Regional Schools Superintendent Tom Parlapanides said in a written response to Townsquare Media, adding that the executive and administrative orders that indefinitely postpone any in-person events are "devastating to the 'Class of 2020,' parents, and myself."
"This specific state directive leaves administration, staff, students and parents without their last chance to say their goodbyes in person to the Class of 2020 as they move on to their future endeavors. The poignancy and stark reality of this directive do not go unnoticed," a statement from South Hunterdon Regional High School Interim Superintendent Charles Shaddow reads.
Bozza said the school year has a cadence to it, marked by holidays and recesses and "as we get to May and June, all the celebrations of student accomplishments and milestones — so staff are really as disappointed as the students and families are, since it's tradition that has gone on for so many generations."
As of Monday, the state had 139,945 positive cases based on test results and 9,310 deaths from COVID-19.
There had been buzz around the state of alternate, socially distant plans among graduating classes trying to salvage something face-to-face during the traditional graduation season.
An online petition started Saturday, urging Gov. Phil Murphy to allow educators to plan outdoor, socially distant ceremonies of some sort had more than 1,200 signatures as of Monday evening.
"When you get so many interpretations when you don't have tight guidance, and people are looking for what is that "escape route," what is that exception to the rule that will allow us to get together - in this case, the guidance has been clear. We can't have those groups come together, just for the same reason that we canceled school in the buildings throughout the end of the year and have to conduct all of our schooling on a virtual basis," Bozza said. He continued "The guidance is helpful and we'll actually be looking forward to more guidance, as we struggle with how will we function with summer programs and even into the next school year."
Sampson continued "Parents, students, teachers, and administrators are all heartbroken about the milestones the Class of 2020 has missed out on. We hope, if permissible at the time, to hold some form of an in-person graduation ceremony during the last week in July. We know seniors and their parents are devastated and we are trying to recognize those students in whatever ways we can virtually and to ensure we hold out hope for an in-person recognition."
Parlapanides took his reaction to the stay at home directives a step farther: "This is America and we have rights which are being suppressed. My heart goes out to everyone that has lost someone during this time, but everything should be opened and people should have the right to choose what they want to do. If they want to stay home, stay home if you want to go out to eat, go out to eat," Parlapanides said, adding, "I am crushed and hurt but we will continue to do the best we can and are allowed for our students."
Shaddow said seniors have been tested over and over again during the last couple of months, "However I know that the resilience and fortitude of the Class of 2020 will allow them to persevere and succeed under these difficult and disappointing circumstances, as they have such a bright and exciting future."
"Everybody is struggling to try to find a way to acknowledge the accomplishment, particularly of high school seniors, but it goes beyond that, to all of the celebrations — honor society, athletics, promotion and graduation exercises at the 8th grade level and below," Bozza said.
Bozza said there are discussions every week right now, with school superintendents around the state, trying to find creative ways to virtually honor such tradition and academic rights of passage.
At Monday's state briefing, a reporter asked whether wave parades were altogether restricted, as the written guidance seemed to state. Callahan said if people wanted to get in their cars and drive to the residence of each graduate, that would be ok — but "the summonsing of people to gather together, that’s the issue."
Callahan also said people getting out of cars to assemble, whether on a football field, at at town hall or outside a school - that is the action the guidelines are meant to discourage.
The New Jersey School Boards Association said it was was still "in the information-gathering phase" of the issue, as it was putting out a survey to members Tuesday on plans for high school graduations around the state.