The fluid nature of the state’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic and, in particular, to school districts being allowed to host graduation ceremonies for departing seniors has left many district officials reeling this week, as they try to determine whether they can change course quickly to plan some kind of event for later in the month.
One school superintendent, Lars Clemensen of Hampton Bays, on Monday said he was exasperated by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s snap decision over the weekend to allow districts statewide to host outdoor graduation ceremonies with 150 or fewer participants starting June 26.
He noted that the district — which has 154 graduates, exceeding the number that would be allowed to participate — had been given no advance notice that the announcement was coming. It was working under Department of Health guidelines released just last week detailing a different plan for graduations. Mr. Clemensen said the district would “need time and collaboration with our district stakeholders, most notably our seniors, to determine if our current and carefully constructed plans need to change.”
At the same time, on Monday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced that he was asking the state to allow Long Island districts to host larger ceremonies.
The governor’s decision this weekend was welcome news, even if some fine points need to be worked out locally. It comes on the heels of recent announcements that COVID-19 numbers truly are decreasing, that the state seems to be winning the battle, for now at least, and that some sort of normalcy can return.
And it is good news for high school seniors, who have had a raw deal throughout the epidemic, missing out on some many of the time-honored traditions and milestones. They have missed out on proms, senior skip days, the final season of athletic careers, awards days and a host of other events. Wearing caps and gowns and walking across a stage to the applause of their loved ones must not be sacrificed as well, if it can be helped.
For weeks, seniors and their families have been accepting the reality that the coronavirus had stolen their graduations. But the governor’s reprieve this weekend will give them hope — not only that they will have that one final high school memory but also that all the hard work over the past three months, the home schooling, the self-isolation, the quarantining with their families, has paid off.
District officials and local lawmakers must see the governor’s decision as the gift that it is, and work quickly to plan outdoor graduations for our seniors, giving them the recognition and celebration they deserve.