Sag Harbor Schools Weigh Graduation Options

Photos of the Pierson High School Class of 2020 went up on Pierson Hill recently.

Sag Harbor School District officials are weighing two options for graduation ceremonies in late June, with the ultimate plan largely dependent on whether the state will allow schools to host large gatherings, Superintendent Jeff Nichols said on Tuesday.

Mr. Nichols and other administrators were expected to meet Wednesday afternoon via videoconference with parents of seniors who have been strategizing ways to celebrate the Class of 2020 despite restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
“No decision has been made,” said Mr. Nichols on Tuesday. “We are continuing to monitor the guidance coming from the state and the county.”

In an email to senior parents that went out last weekend, Mr. Nichols noted he has consulted with Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming who informed him that the region would have to be in phase four in order to host a gathering like a graduation. The earliest Suffolk County could move into phase four is July 8. Graduation is slated for Saturday, June 27.

Mr. Nichols said the school’s attorney, Thomas Volz, has confirmed the phase limitations on large gatherings, but that regardless, he has toured Pierson Hill with Sag Harbor Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy and Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin McGuire to discuss different graduation options.

“Ms. Mulcahy and Mr. McGuire were very supportive of the school district’s desire to honor our graduating seniors,” said Mr. Nichols in his letter to parents. Mr. Nichols said he has also communicated with over 40 other Suffolk County superintendents — all of whom are working with County Executive Steve Bellone to understand what will be possible for students.

“At this time, we are legally not permitted to host a graduation ceremony that includes a large gathering, due to the phase limitations referenced above,” Mr. Nichols said in his letter to patents. “Multiple appeals to the Governor have been made by elected officials and the situation may change as graduation is still almost a month away. In the meantime, impacted students such as the valedictorian and salutatorian will be contacted to arrange a time to film their speeches so that a fallback plan is in place.”

However, on Tuesday, Mr. Nichols stressed the district was still looking at two possible scenarios, and hoping for one that would be more inclusive of parents and graduating seniors, but that it would be dependent on state guidelines.

“A lot of districts are in this same boat — we are trying to honor our seniors, but need to do so in a way that is safe and complies with safety guidelines outlined by the state,” he said on Tuesday.

If nothing changes, and the district is prohibited from having a large gathering, Mr. Nichols said the district would host a ceremony where students and their families would drive through the Division Street parking lot, with students coming up to the stage by themselves to collect their diplomas before returning to their cars and leaving. That scenario, he said, would involve students and administrators wearing masks and following general social distancing guidelines.

“We still have to work out specifics,” he said. “I would hope on some level to have a parade on Main Street for the students before or after the ceremony.”

Mr. Nichols said his hope was that, instead, the district would be permitted to move forward with scenario two — where the 75 graduates and their families would be able to park around the perimeter of Pierson Hill and in lots with proper sight lines to the hill. Parents would remain in their vehicles, but students would sit, socially distanced, on chairs on Pierson Hill, where a brief ceremony including speeches would be held with the Class of 2020 experiencing a different, but more traditional, graduation ceremony than the first option.

“In that scenario, there are a lot of logistics to figure out,” admitted Mr. Nichols. “We would have to work in concert with the village and police, but preliminary discussions are that they are willing to help.”

Mr. Nichols said the district would need about a week’s lead time to prepare for either scenario, giving about two weeks before a formal decision will need to be made.