State senators ask governor to allow outdoor graduations in July

Originally published in Newsday on May 27, 2020.

The New York State Senate majority urged Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday to allow "school districts to safely hold high school graduations outdoors and in person in July," saying the ceremonies would follow social distancing and public health guidelines.

"As the state moves forward on reopening and residents embrace new circumstances regarding social gatherings, we believe New York State can find a way to allow our high school seniors to participate in graduation ceremonies outdoors and in-person," read a letter signed by the Democratic state senators. 

The push for outdoor high school graduations follows an announcement earlier this week from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to permit in-person outdoor graduation ceremonies starting July 6 for middle schools, high schools and colleges.

"We were heartened to learn that New Jersey’s Governor Murphy has allowed such an effort to go forward in that state," the letter stated. "We hope that you will exercise your leadership and permit such gatherings under specified conditions."

 

State and local elected leaders are specifically calling for high school graduations.

“I think our high school graduates deserve a proper graduation,” said state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach). “By the summer, they should be able to perform these ceremonies safely, and I believe if we can begin planning now, we can make this happen.”

School districts would be capable of planning ceremonies that follow public health guidelines, said William Belmont, the school board president in Lynbrook. Belmont said he feels it is unreasonable to allow beaches to reopen while high school graduations remain prohibited.

"There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people on the beach, so why can't these kids sit on a football field 6 feet apart with their parents social distancing on the bleachers?" Belmont said. "They lost their spring sports season, awards night, prom night — all high school seniors want is some semblance of normalcy on their graduation."