PISCATAWAY, NJ — With the end of the school year fast approaching, and virtual instruction and restrictions on mass gatherings still in place because of COVID-19, many families of Piscataway High School seniors have been left wondering if an in-person graduation ceremony will ever be able to take place.
“In a May 8, 2020 communication from the New Jersey Department of Education regarding 2019-2020 graduation ceremonies for all schools across the state, we were directed that “only virtual graduations can be planned at this time,” wrote Superintendent Dr. Frank Ranelli in a letter sent to parents on Tuesday.
Typically, PHS commencements are held at the Rutgers Athletic Center on Livingston Campus. But due to the university’s closure because of the pandemic, all events at the venue have been canceled until further notice.
“In the coming days and weeks, the high school personnel will be planning the details of this virtual event,” he said, adding how they “are determined to make this a memorable event.”
However, Ranelli reported at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting that state mandates were updated since he sent this letter to allow for a possible gathering that could celebrate the accomplishments of PHS Seniors.
“At the time of the letter we needed to follow strict guidelines from the governor’s office,” said Ranelli during the board meeting which was held via Zoom video conferencing. “Since then, some allowances have been made, so we are now looking forward to celebrating our kids in the most allowable way.”
He went on to say that the district continues to monitor information coming from the state which has been changing frequently, and expects to send another announcement sometime next week about any new plans to celebrate the graduates in addition to details on the virtual commencement.
While their comments were submitted before Ranelli’s update, a few PHS parents expressed their disappointment over having a virtual graduation and offered suggestions for holding commencement at venues where social distancing could be enforced and the Seniors could say good-bye to their teachers and friends.
“As the parent of a senior, I am sorely disappointed that they will miss the opportunity to walk across the stage and be presented their diplomas. That moment means so much and is truly a rite of passage for our children,” said Adelita Deepan.
She suggested holding the commencement ceremony this November during Thanksgiving break or back-to-back ceremonies on the same day next year for the Classes of 2020 and 2021.
Kim Eckel said an outdoor venue such as Green Acres Park, the PHS football field or Patriot’s Stadium in Somerset would allow room for graduates to be spread apart to maintain social distancing, and without spectators. She also suggested a police escorted car parade where well-wishers could safely stand along the route as the Seniors and their families drive by.
“We will look at all the options that we have and will invoke the Piscataway Police Department to make sure everybody is safe,” said Ranelli who has been keeping track of the suggestions from the community. “We want to celebrate our kids as best we can, so they can feel they had the proper celebrations.”
TAPintoPiscataway.net is an online newspaper serving the Township of Piscataway.