CAMDEN, NJ — The Camden school district’s Class of 2020 may get to turn their tassels twice this year.
In an announcement Wednesday during the district’s advisory board meeting, Superintendent Katrina McCombs said graduates are currently set to participate in a virtual ceremony June 19.
However, McCombs noted that plans for the online celebration were made prior to Gov. Phil Murphy stating Tuesday that in-person ceremonies could be held as of July 6.
“So we are now awaiting for that [new] guidance, which I think came out very recently this afternoon, where the governor is going to share the specific guidelines necessary to be in place in order to have an outdoor ceremony,” McCombs said during the meeting.
“So again, because we had already started planning for a virtual graduation, that is exactly what we're working toward. We'll be looking at the guidance…so that we can better ascertain whether or not a second graduation would be feasible to be held in July,” she added.
McCombs pointed to variables like ensuring the safety of students and faculty, as well as having plentiful staff in July — a time when the district’s personnel would typically be somewhat depleted.
School board member Nyemah Gillespie, who has advocated for in-person ceremonies despite the pandemic, said Wednesday she was advocating for the district to work through any hurdles.
“I know with COVID, things are changing constantly and I understand the concern everybody has for everyone's safety but I do want to encourage that we figure something out,” Gillespie said. “We've been in front of laptops for the last couple of months [and it’s been] emotionally draining for them."
Board member Elton Custis echoed the sentiments, saying he has been “championing” an in-person event for the graduating class.
The governor’s change of direction on school ceremonies came shortly after he announced earlier in the month that such gatherings would violate COVID-19 executive orders — even if parents were to shift toward “wave parades” in place of full-scale congregations.
The more recent orders allow for ceremonies but mandate they be held outdoors, adhere to capacity limits even if multiple ceremonies are necessary, and minimize staff on site.
Communications sent Wednesday evening to Garden State school leaders from the NJ Department of Education further clarify that schools should administer temperature checks, suggest anyone who feels unwell not to attend and consider live-streaming the event for anyone who cannot attend.
The superintendent’s update this evening drew various responses from a few of the roughly 100 viewers of the Facebook Live meeting.
“The 2020 class knows our safety is first, but the governor dictated that after July 6 the schools can celebrate graduation, so we want our graduation but not virtual,” wrote Cindy Yomairy Guzman.
Anais Rosario posted that she, a Woodrow Wilson High School student, “wants [a] graduation with distance.”
“I understand the disappointment of not having a live graduation, but is it worth dying for?” wrote Siwatu Wilson. “The virus does not care whether the governor gives permission to have an in-person graduation. It is going to spread. Please consider whether the reward justifies the risk.”
June's virtual ceremony will be available on Channel 19 and Facebook.
The district also said it will provide updates regarding the potential second ceremony.