As graduation nears, schools hold out hope for in-person ceremonies

Though some school districts have announced plans for alternative graduation ceremonies, local districts are holding their breath and crossing their fingers that social distancing guidelines may be relaxed enough for in-person festivities in July.

Mattituck, Southold and Greenport school district officials are waiting to make announcements about graduation ceremonies.

At a Greenport Board of Education meeting May 26, superintendent David Gamberg spoke about an “almost unrecognizable” end to an academic year. Mr. Gamberg said district administrators are awaiting final determinations regarding what’s permissible. “A number of [similar districts] are in the same predicament where we are, certainly wanting to do anything and everything we possibly can to honor the graduates,” he said, in addition to honoring younger children moving up from kindergarten and sixth grade. 

“We have a number of things planned,” Mr. Gamberg said, noting all options are being considered. “We’re certainly ready to adjust those plans if we have more latitude.”

Officials in the Mattituck-Cutchogue school district are also hoping to celebrate the class of 2020 with an in-person celebration.

In a letter to parents earlier in May, Mattituck High School Principal Shawn Petretti said the district has “several scenarios available” for graduation plans.

Those plans hinge on any decisions made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Mr. Cuomo said during Thursday’s media briefing that drive-by or drive-through graduations. “We’re going to keep evaluating,” he said.

“Please be assured that we want the Class of 2020 to receive the memorable recognition they deserve while dealing with the constraints of the situation,” Mr. Petretti wrote to families. “It is our hope that we will be able to have an in-person, outdoor ceremony with graduates and their immediate families. We would like to then have a parade down Main Road where the community can come out and help our graduates celebrate this important date.”

Mr. Petretti said caps and gowns will be distributed before June 27 and the district has still arranged for a professional photographer to take portraits of the graduates. Seniors will also be permitted to decorate their caps, the principal said, to commemorate the “uniqueness” of their situation.

Southold also has not made any decision on graduation plans.

In early May, signs were placed on the front lawn of the school to honor each graduate, along with a letterboard message: “Let’s be there for each other not just now, but always. Stay strong, Southold.” A drive-by parade was held Tuesday.

Riverhead seniors also were celebrated May 22 with a drive-through parade. District officials have planned a series of both virtual and in-person events to honor the graduating class.

“Not to have a graduation is painful, I get it,” Mr. Cuomo said, adding that his daughter Michaela graduated from college this spring without an in-person ceremony. “As soon as we can do it, we will.”

In a joint letter to Mr. Cuomo last Friday, State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblymen Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) and Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) urged the governor to consider allowing outdoor ceremonies in July.

“Long Island has now entered phase one of New York Forward’s reopening plan,” the letter read. “As residents in our area see people safely gathering in our parks and at our beaches, they would like their local school district to be able to acknowledge students with a much-deserved graduation ceremony.”

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