Rather than line up and cross the basketball arena at Hofstra University to receive their high school diplomas in front of friends and family, graduating seniors in the Sewanhaka Central High School District will be presented with those diplomas without an audience this year, as social distancing regulations remain in place, Superintendent James Grossane announced on May 21.
The district’s traditional ceremonies are “not possible this year,” Grossane said, because Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders prohibit large gatherings, even if people are six feet apart. Instead, he said, on June 27 and 28, district seniors will have the opportunity to go to their respective high schools in their caps and gowns, cross the stage one at a time to receive their diplomas, and have their pictures taken by professional photographers.
Families will be given time slots for the students’ ceremonies, and two family members will be able to accompany each one.
A more traditional ceremony, complete with speeches and the reading of the graduates’ names, Grossane wrote in his announcement on the district website, will be recorded and broadcast on the website .
More details will be sent to district parents and guardians.
“While this year’s graduation ceremonies will look different,” Grossane wrote, “we have developed a plan, which honors traditions and celebrates the achievements of our students.”
But students and parents alike have expressed their disappointment with that plan. Members of the graduating class created an online petition after the announcement, saying they would like to hold ceremonies on the schools’ fields.
“There is no reason why we cannot stand 6-feet apart to be within social distancing guidelines,” the petition reads. “We are allowed to go to the beaches and stores, but are not allowed to have our graduation. We want what we deserve, and we want to say ‘goodbye’ with, and to, all our friends.”
As of last Friday morning, the petition had nearly 2,000 signatures, with one signer, Martin Zatz, commenting, “This is a very poor decision on the part of the district,” and another, Rebecca Yunitis, writing, “These seniors deserve a beautiful ceremony to celebrate their achievements. This school district definitely dropped the ball on this. Do better. We pay too much school tax for the district to not be better than this.”
Gabi Stolz, the mother of a graduating senior at H. Frank Carey High School, had created a petition on May 19, asking the district administration to hold a more traditional graduation, with all of the students and parents maintaining social distancing.
“Give our seniors what they deserve,” that petition reads. “Let them say goodbye to their school.”
By the time Grossane made his announcement two days later, the first petition had more than 1,000 signatures, and more people signed it after the announcement. “We are up in arms,” Stolz said of Grossane’s decision. “We were not even given a say in the matter.”
She said that she and another mother, Jill Romano, knew enough parents who would be willing to volunteer to host a graduation ceremony adhering to the regulations Gov. Andrew Cuomo has implemented since mid-March.
Adding a comment to Stolz’s petition, Deborah Talbot said she thought there was enough room on the school’s fields for the 250 graduates to maintain social distancing. If not, she suggested they hold a ceremony in the Nassau Coliseum’s parking lot.
“We all know what the circumstances are,” Stolz said, with Romano adding, “We just want our kids to get what they deserve.”