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Oceanside High School aims for in-person graduation in July

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The Oceanside School District will host an in-person high school graduation on July 21, contingent on state coronavirus guidelines at that time.

Also, the school has canceled prom, which in May it had rescheduled for July 27.  At the end of June, school officials sent a letter canceling the event.

The graduation, set to take place outdoors, on the Oceanside High School lawn after sundown, could also be split into two ceremonies, to be held on July 21 and 22, to provide for more social distancing. The rain dates are July 23 and 24.

Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Harrington and OHS Principal Geraldine De Carlo sent a letter to students and parents about the district’s graduation and prom plans at the end of May.

“Throughout this process, we have remained incredibly optimistic that we could hold on to the traditions and experiences that graduates for decades have enjoyed in the Oceanside Schools,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, that is just not a reality in this current situation.”

Donna Kraus, the district’s public information coordinator, explained that the seating arrangement for graduation could look much different than usual. Rather than seating all graduates in the front and families in the back, the district is considering having all students sit with their families while keeping the families six feet apart.

In mid-May, parents petitioned the district for an in-person graduation rather than a drive-by ceremony. Also, according to surveys sent out by the district, many families did not want a virtual ceremony.

“Let these kids feel like they matter — that the last 12 years of their lives that they spent working to graduate high school matters,” Liza Sklar, whose son, Stephen, is set to graduate, said. “They’ve been stuck inside with no end in sight. They want to know they’re being recognized.”

The surveys also revealed that students wanted a way to be together one last time for their graduation. “So that would be our goal, as well,” Kraus said. “As far as the details, that will be based on the state’s rules.”

In early June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said outdoor graduations with 150 people or less are permitted. Oceanside High School’s graduating class tops 400 students. Add in parents, school administrators and board members, and the graduation could have more than a thousand people in attendance. School officials thus are waiting to see how many people will be permitted at an outdoor gathering by the end of July.

“We want to keep as close to tradition as possible, but keep everyone safe,” Kraus said. “Of course we wish we could be more definite, but we have to wait and see.”

The letter then listed alternative arrangements for several other typical senior celebrations, all of which took place at the end of May and throughout June. There were virtual ceremonies for honor society students, as well as video montages for College Decision Day and athletic awards. The class of 2020 also received a graduation car parade and a senior slideshow, as well as yearbooks and lawn signs by appointment.