Sewanhaka superintendent explains graduation decision

Originally published in LI Herald on May 28, 2020.

Sewanhaka Superintendent James Grossane explained his decision to allow high school seniors to graduate in individual ceremonies at a virtual Board of Education meeting on May 26, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people was set to expire two days later.

He said he waited as long as he possibly could before making an announcement about graduations, but felt that he should release the district’s preliminary plan on May 21, abiding by Cuomo’s current guidance at the time. In a letter to parents, Grossane said district seniors would have the opportunity to get their diplomas at their respective high schools on June 27 and 28. Families would be given time slots for their students’ ceremonies, and only two family members would be able to accompany each graduate.

A more traditional ceremony, complete with speeches and the reading of the graduates’ names, he wrote, would be recorded and broadcast on the district’s website.

“This is not my choice,” Grossane told the public at the Board of Education meeting last week, “this is simply what the order says, and we have to comply with that.”

But, he said, if the governor’s orders were to change, he would work to hold another, more traditional ceremony for the district’s high school seniors in late July or early August.

“We’ll move heaven and Earth to have these ceremonies,” Grossane vowed. “There’s nothing more that we want to do than graduate our 2,000 seniors.”

To make that happen, Trustee Laura Ferone suggested parents reach out to their local elected officials and say that they are in favor of having an in-person graduation ceremony, saying, “I think we really need people to let the governor know what the will of the people is.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced on May 26 that school districts in the state can hold graduation ceremonies beginning on July 6, Grossane noted, so long as the district’s “comply with social distancing — ensuring the health and safety of all in attendance.”

New York State Senators have since sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo, asking him to do the same in New York. “The high school graduating class of 2020 hould be permitted to embrace their successes and be fully recognized as they embark on the next chapter of their lives,” the letter, which was signed by more than 20 State Senators, including Todd Kaminsky and Anna Kaplan, reads. “The relationships students have developed with their schools, teachers and peers will forever be grounded in their hearts, and we know you share with us a commitment to find a way for them to celebrate their final high school moments in a traditional, ceremonious manner.”

They added that they believe “a safe, carefully-managed outdoor and in-person” ceremony could be held, and urged the governor “to find a way to allow this to happen.”