An open letter to Governor Murphy:

First, I want to thank you for the work you and your staff are doing to keep New Jersey residents as safe as possible during this public health crisis.

I am primarily writing to urge you to please be patient and not to prematurely close the New Jersey schools for the remainder of the school year. I know you have set a date of May 15 as an opportunity for you to review the status of the number of new cases in New Jersey and are looking for a consistent steady decline in newly reported cases which could signal a return to some sense of normalcy before you decide on further statewide considerations.

Sign Up for Scotch Plains/Fanwood Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

I'm hopeful that you will exercise flexibility in that date until at least the end of May. Of course, the health of the economy is a major concern for all of us but I would like to focus for the moment on the schools and the mental and emotional health of all students with particular emphasis on high school seniors. With apprehension, they are watching their much anticipated high school prom and graduation hanging in the balance.

I don’t mean to ignore or play down the importance of other students in all educational settings (particular graduating seniors at the college level), because this public health crisis is affecting all students. But as a parent of twins who are currently high school seniors and an older child who is in his third year of undergraduate studies I am, like many other parents, very in tune with the negative impact this crisis is having on all our children. But for now, I would like to focus on our high school seniors.

On Monday, April 21, I watched the Air Force Academy Commencement ceremony. To see that this ceremony even took place, despite occurring in a much scaled-down fashion, was very reassuring to me and caused me to think once again about our high school seniors and their own long awaited and much earned commencement. So while it is true the total number of cases in Colorado are considerably less than New Jersey (as of this date approximately 13,441 vs 111,000) it was nonetheless great to see the graduates experiencing their special day in the midst of this public health crisis.

 I couldn't help but notice immediately following the ceremony, the graduates placed masks on their faces and celebrated appropriately. Again, this scene caused me to think about my children and all the other young high school seniors and why their graduation ceremonies, also in the midst of this crisis, cannot experience the same joy as the academy graduates.

If still required, our high school graduates, much like the academy graduates, can enter the outdoors arena (or indoors) 6-10 ft. apart and sit in chairs appropriately placed at the same social distance. Again, if needed to ensure safety, graduates can be mandated to wear facial masks before, during and after the ceremony. Picture-taking can still take place (see photograph of academy graduates on internet). Much like the Air Force graduates the ceremony can be held without spectators, but could be streamed on the internet.

Will it be the same as previous graduations? Of course not. But some experts are saying it will be quite some time before anything will be same again.

We all know the senior year in high school is a very special time for students. A special time, like many other occasions in life, that can never be repeated or replaced. College seniors are older, more mature, and have their sights now focused on entering the work force pursuing careers and or advancing their education by continuing on to graduate studies. High school seniors, by contrast, are younger and are not in the same mind set as college graduates. High school graduations, much like the senior prom, are rites of passage. Our seniors should not be denied the opportunity to experience the joy of these once in a lifetime very special occasions. If still needed and with proper precautions, I remain hopeful they can and will occur.

This current public health crisis has unfairly stripped our children of an important part of their youth, and a graduation ceremony with or without a senior prom would be an important event in their lives at this very troubling moment in time. I feel there should be and must be a way for us to allow them to regain a sense of control and normalcy in their young lives. While we cannot change what’s happened in the recent past we can do something in the present that will be uplifting and memorable for our children.

Thank you,

Mark Wolman
Scotch Plains, NJ