ROXBURY, NJ – Roxbury High School's graduation ceremony - initially scheduled for June 24 on the football field - will instead take place June 19 at Mennen Sports Arena in a Friday afternoon event where seniors will not really graduate, said the school’s principal today.
Graduating seniors will have to return to school for three days the following week in order to fulfill their attendance requirements, said Roxbury High School Principal Dominick Miller, in a presentation at Monday’s school board meeting. They will get their diplomas on June 24, he said.
The change of schedule and venue is the district administration’s answer to criticism it received about a plan to move the graduation into the high school auditorium this year to accommodate the proposed renovation of the school’s artificial turf field and surrounding track.
Some parents complained there wouldn’t be enough seating inside the school to handle siblings and grandparents of graduates with big families. Some suggested using Mennen, in Morris Plains, or County College of Morris (CCM) in Randolph.
A Note from the Principal
Miller announced the choice of Mennen in a Feb. 7 letter to parents. At Monday’s meeting, some members of the school board expressed irritation about not getting the letter. The change was not announced to the media or published on the school's website or Facebook page.
More than the change of venue, it was the plan to change the date of the ceremony that drew rebuke at the meeting from a number of parents, including Succasunna resident Sam Scalamoni. He said the date change is likely to ruin Project Graduation, an annual event - scheduled this year to take place on the evening of June 24 – designed to provide an alcohol- and drug-free place for graduates to gather after their big day.
“Is there a concern about the safety of these students,” Scalamoni asked Miller. “That’s why Project Graduation exists, right? To try to make sure that these kids have a safe, alcohol-free place to go. And now they’re going to have a weekend where they can just kind of go (anywhere).”
Miller retorted that there are some parents who don’t like Project Graduation.
“I get phone calls all the time from people saying, ‘You’re not my child’s parent,’” he said. “You’re right. I’m not your child’s parent. The fact that the school has a project graduation, where we’ve got to make sure that your children … are not drinking, I don’t know. Isn’t that our job as parents?”
The principal suggested Project Graduation would have remained un-threatened had parents gone along with his initial plan to use the auditorium.
“The bottom line is, I had an idea for graduation indoors,” he said. “No one wanted to hear the idea for graduation indoors, so we had to get together and come up with a plan that would make as many people as happy as possible.”
For Ledgewood resident Katie Nichols, the date change is particularly vexing. She called it a “catastrophe” for her family, which planned to drive 850 miles to attend the Nichols’ older son’s graduate school commencement on June 19 and then return to Roxbury to be at the June 24 graduation from Roxbury High School of his brother.
"This possible decision has greatly impacted our family," Nichols said. "And if it was your family, you'd be mad as hell too."
The Last Ones to Know
Although those on the school board initially had little to say about Miller’s presentation, board member Joe Bocchino spoke up as the meeting was about to be adjourned. He said he was annoyed he didn’t know anything about the Mennen plan until someone approached him Sunday at a supermarket and asked him about it.
“Frankly, I think we dropped the ball,” Bocchino said. "I’m just very frustrated about the whole thing.”
Roxbury Schools Business Administrator Joseph Mondanaro said he helped with the search for a facility and determined that CCM was not suitable due to cost and space issues.
Mondanaro said the administration was somewhat blindsided by the blow-back it received to its plan to simply move the graduation into the auditorium – something that’s been done in the past due to inclement weather.
Board member Heather Champagne criticized the administration’s communication skills.
“I never knew, until the parents showed up at the last meeting, what the time-line was (for the field and track replacement),” she said. “And it is frustrating to be the last ones to know when members of the community are coming up to you and not being able to say to them, ‘I know what you’re talking about.’”
Asked, after the meeting, whether the Mennen site and date change were a certainty, Roxbury Schools Administrator Loretta Radulic would only say, "We'll see."
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