FLEMINGTON, NJ - A special celebration to highlight the accomplishments and success of graduating eighth graders from J.P. Case Middle School will happen virtually.

A committee has planned a pre-recorded video presentation to celebrate the eighth graders who are graduating as part of the Class of 2020, Superintendent Dr. Kari McGann announced at the board of education’s virtual meeting Tuesday. This video will be sent to all eighth grade families at noon on promotion day (June 23).

“It’s going to be a fantastic celebration of everything our eighth graders have done this past year,” McGann said.

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She confirmed this graduation video is the district’s current plan to celebrate its middle school graduates, as of Tuesday evening, despite Gov. Phil Murphy announcing earlier in the day that he would be allowing New Jersey school districts to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies as long as those ceremonies comply with social distancing guidelines in place because of COVID-19.

“I want to assure the board and members of our public that great planning and preparation has gone into really acknowledging what our students have done in eighth grade,” McGann said. “If there are changes, (Principal Bob) Castellano and I will share that, but right now, this is what we have in place.”

Last year, the eighth grade promotion ceremony was held inside the middle school auditorium.

According to a press release from the Office of the Governor, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) had intended to issue full guidance Wednesday to districts. In what was released initially from the office, any in-person graduation ceremony will be allowed to take place, as long as they a re held outdoors on or after July 6, while adhering to capacity limitations, as well as other health and safety protocols.

“Our goal is to ensure that our students are given the send-offs they richly deserve and which they have been working toward,” Murphy said at his Tuesday press briefing. “We want them to celebrate and to be celebrated by their families, friends and the educators who helped get them there. Certainly these will be graduations unlike any others.”

One of the challenges, McGann noted, is the date of July 6 because schools are closed for summer vacation at this point.

As for the current plans in place at J.P. Case, the committee has been “working very hard on what graduation will look like for our eighth graders” for weeks, McGann said.

She said the current plans were approved by the Hunterdon County Department of Health last week, as well as guided by local Office of Emergency Management officials and the local police department.

The graduation video will include students making opening and closing remarks, as well as members of the eighth grade chorus singing the “Star Spangled Banner,” and an award-winning student reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. There will be congratulatory remarks from the superintendent, board vice president and principal.
A “new” presentation of Scholarship Award winners will also take place, and each individual graduate will be recognized via a student picture slideshow.

With the district sticking to its initial plans for now, one board member noted there will be some families holding on to hope that the district will reverse its course.

“I got to tell you, the people I talk to in town, they’re quite upset that eight graders, let alone seniors, will not be able to walk,” said board member Chris Walker.

He asked McGann if there were discussions about possibly using the Hunterdon Central Regional High School football field for an outdoor ceremony.

“Yes, I was on a call with the high school, each Tuesday, (Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey) Moore and I speak regularly,” she said. “We both, along with other superintendents, are awaiting for additional guidance from the New Jersey Department of Education.”

“Things change every day it seems like and it’s unfortunate, because people are doing so much work to try and prepare and do great planning to support students, and then as soon as you get everything planned and ready to go, things change,” she added. “So we’re adapting as quickly as we can, but not forgoing all of the work that’s been planned and put in place.”

At the same meeting, board members also accepted the recommendation of McGann to promote those eighth grade students of J.P. Case Middle School who have successfully completed the board’s required courses of study.

“I want to thank our eighth graders and their families for their contributions that they’ve provided to Flemington-Raritan (Regional School District) academically through supporting our school district,” said board president Tim Bart. “I’m sure June for these families and students is a big month of transition, even where we are now. They’ve got a lot going on. I wish them the best for the month of June as they finish their career with Flemington-Raritan.”

Asked again about the plans to keep the graduation virtual, instead of changing over to in-person, McGann said, “As we speak tonight, yes that is the plan. Remember if we did an in-person whatever that is, it would have to be on July 6 or later. There’s challenges with what the governor put out today. But as of this evening, I spoke with Mr. (Bob) Castellano, and again this afternoon, we’re sticking with the plan that we have in place, but also watching for more guidance, as well as future conversations with Dr. (Jeffrey) Moore.”

She declined to assign a probability to the chance these plans may change.