CHATHAM, NJ - Chatham Board of Education members expressed a strong commitment to the CHS Class of 2020, vowing to do everything in their power to make the seniors' graduation ceremony special at the virtual meeting of the BOE held Monday night.
Board member Ann Ciccarelli, whose son, Dean, is a member of the Class of 2020, said she was willing to do whatever it takes to change state policy about holding live graduation events and quipped that "If I have to drive to Rumson and Murphy's front lawn, I'll do it."
Gov. Phil Murphy's Department of Education has handed down an edict that all high school graduations will have to be done virtually because of the Coronavirus pandemic. But Chatham BOE members and administrators are hoping that a "live" event will be possible in late June or sometime in July when restrictions could be eased.
Chatham High administrators are planning such a virtual graduation ceremony for the Chatham High seniors on Monday, June 15, which will be the final day of school for all Chatham students. Chatham Superintendent Michael LaSusa has talked to a production company about facilitating the virtual graduation event.
Chatham Superintendent Michael LaSusa talks about pivoting to a live graduation event in July for the CHS seniors behind the high school
"I'm sorry, we need the state to know that we don't accept the cancellations," Matthew Gilfillan, board member, said. "We owe it to the kids to step up for them. They need to know that the BOE and administration is behind them and want to host this event. I think it would be sending a bad message if we say, okay Governor. We need to send a message that we will fight for them."
Matthew Gilfillan's opinion is that the BOE should petition the state for some sort of flexibility
Board president Jill Critchley Weber said: "The message is that we're not giving up. We're going to fight the good fight to have a high school graduation."
Board member Sal Arnuk held up three family photos from past CHS graduations, sharing how special it was last year for him to hand the diploma to his daughter at the 2019 ceremony.
"We owe an above and beyond effort for this class," Arnuk said. "I would like to plan for some sort of live gathering, just in case (the state) changes their guidance. We owe it to even bend the rules to do what we have to do to let them know that they're special,"
Board member Michelle Clark said: "I want the graduates of 2020 to know that what came down from the Department of Education and the manner in which it was delivered, and the timing of it, to me, personally is offensive. I feel like Chatham is a district that has always done right. We make our state look good. We continue to make great decisions. I don't believe that this board, administration or anyone would put our students or community at risk. I want the graduates to know that we are doing everything we absolutely can that will honor you in a way that is appropriate. This is heartbreaking. The Class of 2020 is all I'm focusing on right now."
In other business, Gilfillan also weighed in on the possibility that state aid to the district could be cut because of the financial strains put on the state by the pandemic. See Gilfillan's comments below.