MONTVILLE, NJ – Just days away from the last day of school, tempers flared at the June 16 Montville Twp. Board of Education meeting as parents argued with Board President Charles Grau and Superintendent René Rovtar about their opinions on a better graduation ceremony for the high school’s senior class.
“People are not going to be happy no matter what [the principal] comes up with,” Grau said. MTHS Principal Doug Sanford is doing the best job possible, given the circumstances and the fact that the governor’s orders are in flux, he said, and the board is not going to advise or influence any decision Sanford makes, he said.
The current ceremony situation is a drive-thru event for the school’s approximately 320 students on June 23, the last day of school, starting at 7 a.m. and lasting throughout the day, in waves of about 64 students. The groups of cars will stage at Lazar Middle School, caravan over to the high school, and one car at a time will drive up to a stage in front of the steps at the school, the student will jump out of the car and pick up their diploma from a table. That evening, a video ceremony will premiere on YouTube. Tentative plans have been made for a student-only, in-person ceremony on the football field on July 6, and Sanford insisted it would not be a repeat of any of the prior ceremonies when he called in to the BOE meeting, but no further details were given. Parents would have to watch the ceremony from home, since allowing them to attend would max out the 500-person limit that may change after July 3 if all goes well with re-opening the state up until then.
Rovtar said that parents have opposed the drive-thru event but she pointed to the approximately 25 students who stated in a questionnaire that they would not or could not come to an in-person event for health or other reasons. Rovtar and Sanford stated that the in-person ceremony post-July 3 is iffy, and will still be tentative on the 23rd, so the drive-thru event “has tremendous value,” as Rovtar expressed it.
In an eyebrow-raising moment, parent Fran Dunn pointed to the protests that Governor Murphy is allowing to happen without regard to maximum gathering amounts or social distancing orders, and suggested the executive orders be ignored for the 23rd.
“Mrs. Dunn, I cannot recommend to this board of education that we plan a ceremony that falls outside of the executive orders that have been issued,” Rovtar told her.
Dunn back-pedaled and suggested just the students attend. “It’s really about what the students want,” she said. “They want an in-person graduation. The parents could watch from home. Me, as a parent, I’ve waited a long time to see this.”
Parent Judith Haskub wanted administration to read a letter that students had sent to the board, but TAPinto Montville has not seen the letter as of press time. She called picking up a diploma off of a table “not right,” and said that if a protest can be held, why can a graduation not be held?
“The parents are not happy – let’s protest,” she said. “Who’s going to stop us, the governor? He [protested] himself.”
When Grau told her that the district would have to follow the law, she said, “You follow the law, and we’ll protest as parents. We can’t tell you what to do, and you can’t tell us what to do. If we want to show up at the high school and protest against those rules for this graduation, we have to be allowed to do it. The same way that we’re going to protest for black lives matter, seniors matter.”
When Grau told her they had to follow what the state department of education tells them to do, she said they had to follow what the students want them to do. “Nobody’s doing what they want to do and that’s very upsetting. Let’s get it done. They’ve been through a lot and they deserve it.”
Parent Kathleen Colatrella said that minor modifications are being requested and by planning around the 25 students, the majority of the students are not happy.
“We’re not asking Mr. Sanford to scrap his plans or to change drastically,” she said. “But what he’s planning isn’t making anyone happy.” The student council made calls to those students because at the time there was no date for an in-person ceremony so they were confused about what they were responding to, she said. “We are not asking you to break the law. Just make modifications. But we are not being heard.”
Grau was adamant that the board was not going to intervene with Sanford’s plans despite parents’ requests for an additional survey, township officials’ advice and school board input.
“Are [high school officials] keeping everybody happy? No,” Grau told parents. “When you have 320 kids graduating, there are going to be differences. [They’re] putting this thing together in the best way possible. I think that’s what his charge is, and he’s been in touch with the people and hopefully he will continue to evaluate. Whatever he comes up with – people are not going to be happy. What he’s doing is the best job based on the information he has with the people he’s talked to at the school, including the students, and that’s what he’s making his recommendation on.”
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