GLEN ROCK, NJ – With New Jersey’s stay-at-home orders still in place, Glen Rock school officials are trying to figure out a way to celebrate students whose final year in high school has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Plans for an in-person graduation were canceled after Col. Patrick J. Callahan, state police superintendent, said commencement ceremonies could only be held virtually and “wave parades” are prohibited if it causes people to gather in one spot.
According to Superintendent Dr. Brett Charleston, the Glen Rock school district will host a virtual high school graduation on June 18 in lieu of a traditional in-person ceremony.
During the school board’s May 12 meeting, the superintendent said it is important to help students celebrate the conclusion of their high school careers and to give them a sense of “finality.”
“We’re working on that and doing our best to incorporate what students would want to see in a virtual graduation,” Charleston said.
That includes speeches from students and staff, recognitions and student honors. School officials are also working to find the best platform to record and stream the ceremony.
Besides honoring graduates virtually next month, Charleston said they are committed to scheduling an in-person ceremony once gatherings are deemed lawful and safe.
Officials are tentatively planning for an in-person ceremony on July 30, at 10 a.m., which Charleston said will be “a traditional graduation with all the bells and whistles.”
If restrictions are still in effect this summer, the superintendent said they would consider hosting a ceremony on Sept. 26 during homecoming.
At high schools, the last few months of the school year are typically filled with many milestones, such as prom and senior trips, and culminate in the final rite of passage in June – graduation.
But due to the pandemic, students in New Jersey missed out on those coming-of-age traditions as K-12 schools were shut as part of an overall effort to combat the spread of the virus.
“It stinks,” Gov. Phil Murphy said last week. “There’s no other way to put it. We feel awful, but we also have to make sure that by celebrating this year that we don’t lose somebody.”
The state education department issued guidance on the matter and offered suggestions, including airing messages on local TV stations, streaming speeches online or even hosting digital ceremonies on gaming platforms.
“In terms of prom, [Principal John] Arlotta said students are working on possible scenarios, but that may look like more of a parent and student-driven event. I don’t have an answer on that right now, but it obviously won’t occur in the month of June,” Charleston said.
"We’re not happy about this. No one is,” said Charleston, adding, “Our hope is that we can have a traditional graduation in July.”
School Board President Sharon Scarpelli, who is the parent of a high school senior, said, "I know this is disappointing, but we need to do what's best for the community at large."