With an announcement that prompted both celebration and consternation, Governor Andrew Cuomo Saturday decided graduation ceremonies may be held outdoors. The caveat? No more than 150 people may attend the socially-distanced events.
That prompted Suffolk County officials to ask him to allow larger crowds, however.
“That is a number that would work well, probably, in many areas of the state, but difficult on Long Island with our size and density here,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Monday afternoon. “It is a challenge. So we’ve requested the state to provide more flexibility there to allow Long Island school districts to work with the local health department to put forward plans that address our larger size and the issues involved in making sure that can be done safely.”
On the South Fork the news was met with shrugged shoulders and furrowed brows in districts where officials and parents had just put plans in place for drive-up graduations after that had been green-lit by the governor just days before.
“Unfortunately, we were given no advance notice that this guidance would change before hearing it this weekend,” said Lars Celemensen, superintendent of the Hampton Bays School District, where the class of 2020 numbers 154. “Rather, the New York State Department of Health had just released explicit guidelines last week detailing something different. So, we need time and collaboration with our district stakeholders, most notably our seniors, to determine if our current and carefully constructed plans need to change.”
“Lars said it well,” Southampton School Superintendent Dr. Nicholas Dyno said. “We have 170 seniors in the class of 2020, and will continue to plan for the combined virtual and live ceremony that was developed prior to the governor’s latest announcement.”
Asked what impact the latest announcement might have on his district, East Hampton School Superintendent Rich Burns replied via email, “No impact.” East Hampton is still planning a drive-thru graduation ceremony which will enable all 225 graduates to participate.
With 14 students graduating this year, Bridgehampton School Principal Michael Miller was able to meet with parents and students on Monday to devise plans for an outdoor ceremony on June 27 at 4 p.m. Each student will be able to invite nine family members or friends to join him or her in a designated circle. The graduation will be streamed live on the district web page, and all spectators are asked to view the event from outside the school property. At 5 p.m., community members are invited to join a parade of vehicles for graduates beginning at the Bridgehampton First Baptist Church, located at 141 Sag Harbor Turnpike.
In Sag Harbor, district Superintendent Jeff Nichols said the graduating class and the students’ parents had discussed two different scenarios and the newest edict does have an impact on the district. Graduation is slated for Saturday, June 27, at 5 p.m. One plan was a “drive-by” option, with students staying in cars with their parents driving up to the school, receiving their diplomas through windows.
“That wasn’t a popular choice,” Mr. Nichols said.
Another scheme would see parents staying in cars that would park on the perimeter of the school, with graduates socially distanced in the yard.
So far, Mr. Nichols said he expects to meet again with parents and students later this week to continue to evaluate alternatives. One issue to discuss is whether to proceed with graduation on June 27, or wait to see if by July, the 150 person attendance ceiling might increase to 250.
With 230 graduates, Westhampton Beach High school continues to explore its options, Michael Radday, superintendent of schools said Monday. There had been thoughts of using the Great Lawn, school district property, or even closing Mill Road for a drive-thru, parade-type event. While the tentative graduation date is June 27, nothing has been confirmed yet, the superintendent said Monday.
Last Thursday, prior to the latest announcement, School Board member Stacy Rubio discussed the Mill Road proposal with the Village Board. Mayor Maria Moore wanted more time to review an executive order related to outdoor ceremonies released just that day, before rendering a decision about the closure. Village Board member Ralph Urban offered support for the effort to help the students celebrate in these trying times, stating that the board would do “whatever we can do to help.”
Board member Steve Frano predicted more updates from the state before the end of the month.
“Every day, we have a call with the county at four o’clock and everybody is urging the county executive to do what he can with the governor to loosen the restrictions,” Mayor Moore said.
“I fully anticipate that that’s going to happen, but …,” Ms. Rubio said. “How long do you emotionally torture families in order to get closure and be finished?”
School, Primary Vote Deadlines Extended
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Sunday issued an executive order extending the deadline for school district votes until June 16. The deadline had been Tuesday, June 9. Under the new rules, ballots can be accepted by districts by hand delivery through 5 p.m. on June 9 and received by mail through June 16.
The governor also signed legislation extending the date when absentee ballots must be postmarked for the June 23 primary. To be counted, votes must be postmarked by June 23. Earlier, the governor had issued an executive order allowing all New Yorkers to cast absentee ballots in the June 23 election and ensuring all eligible voters for the primary receive a postage-paid absentee ballot application in the mail.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world, and while we are making great progress and the numbers keep going down, no New Yorker should have to choose between their health and their right to vote,” the governor said in a press release.
School districts had been scrambling to print ballots and send them to all eligible voters in their district in a timely fashion before the latest executive order.