MADISON, NJ - With the school year ending soon, and the COVID-19 crisis persisting, some parents in Madison are getting concerned about the annual graduation ceremony for the senior class of 2020 at Madison High School.

The idea of a graduation ceremony held virtually does not sit well with many parents. Last night, during the May 12th meeting for the Madison Board of Education, close to 200 tuned into the meeting through Zoom to express their concerns about seeing their kids taking lessons online due to the situation, and how they are missing out on many student events and activities, such as spring sports senior night and prom.

“Madison has been doing an excellent job given the circumstances, but a lot of people are interested in this topic,” said Victoria Heskett, a parent who has participated in the high school’s PTO and has a son, 18-year-old Shane, graduating this year. “It’s something that can be done.”

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Another Madison parent, Kate Salko, was also concerned about student activities being cancelled due to the pandemic. Salko works as a substitute teacher in Madison and Florham Park, and has a 20-year-old daughter, Erin, in college, of whom is also been receiving education virtually and events being cancelled.

“Like many students missing out of events and activities due to schools moving to remote learning, those in the arts are hit hard as well,” said Salko, in a recent Facebook post.

Many Madison parents have banding together, asking for district superintendent and board of education to pressure the Governor Murphy to exempt graduations from Executive Order 107 and hold responsible, safe socially distant graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020. This ceremony intends to take place in mid-June, with a total of 209 students graduating.

“There are countless news stories about other states accomplishing this goal,” said Kerry Cozzolino, whose 18-year-old daughter Ava is set for graduation this year.

"If NJ can open golf courses, parks and soon beaches, we can put on a responsible, safe, voluntary, socially distant graduation.  We have proposed having groups of graduates arrive at designated times and line up 6-10 feet apart and process around the track to a table in the end zone where the graduate could pick up their diploma.  Another idea is to have graduates drive to the front of the school one by one and get out to get their diploma off a table.”

Recently, during the March 12th virtual meeting, Superintendent Mark Schwarz said that the Madison school district had never said they were not open to a live graduation, but they were planning a virtual ceremony as a safety net. There must also be permission from the state to hold such a live graduation.

“I can easily see a socially-distant graduation ceremony on a football field with everyone six feet apart," said Superintendent Schwarz.

"I still insist on today that that’s what I like to do. I want a socially distant graduation ceremony, with the support of the police, so we don’t have a violation of social distancing policy. But I can’t do that without some sort of lifting of the guidelines from the state. We may get some flexibility for a car-driven graduation. So it doesn’t make sense for him to make promises to the students who come hell or high water, we’re going to be on that football field when the fact of the matter is I might not get that clearance from the state.”

“I will go on record and say that if the state allows it, I am comfortable safety with many safety precautions in place, measurements and consultation from our health department and police, I am comfortable designing a process for a socially-distant graduation. But I will not insist that I will do it in defiance of the state. I don’t think that healthy or productive for anybody.”

Many Madison parents felt assured by Schwarz’s remarks.

“We understand the BOE’s position,” said Cozzolino.

“We as parents feel we must pressure the state in order to make this happen. We appreciate high school Principal David Drechsel, Superintendent Mark Schwarz and the Board of Education for supporting and being open to a graduation ceremony in Madison.”

In a comment to TAPinto Madison today, Superintendent Schwarz said, ""The district is entertaining a variety of in person options, as well as an online service that will provide students with an archived tribute to their accomplishment" said Schwarz to TAPinto Madison. "Madison High School students can rest assured that we will provide the most meaningful in person experience that we can while ensuring the safety of all students. After 13 years of public education, our students deserve our best efforts. We will give them nothing less. As guidance from Trenton is changing daily, we are monitoring the messaging and hope to release our final plans within the next week."

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