SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ –South Plainfield School District administrators, during a virtual senior parent meeting held June 1, stated they are still weighing options for a Class of 2020 graduation.

“We are looking at all of the options that we have, but we have to keep in mind what we will realistically be able to do in terms of whatever restrictions are in place at the time of the actual graduation ceremony,” said Superintendent Dr. Noreen Lishak.

Last month, the district announced it would hold a virtual ceremony on the last day of school - Tuesday, June 16 – and made mention that an in-person commencement could take place as late as the fall once social distancing restrictions were lifted. 

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Last week, however, the governor announced that in-person outdoor and drive-thru graduation ceremonies will now be allowed, beginning July 6. 

Although social distancing restrictions are expected to increase over the coming weeks, they currently still stand at no more than 25 people at any outside gathering. There are 240 students in the senior class and, based on the current restrictions, only 16 students would be able to graduate at a time; the remaining attendance total would need to include administrators and a member of the board of education along with custodians to perform a ‘deep cleaning’ before, during, and after the ceremony as well as nurses to check temperatures of those entering.

“For us to graduate 16 seniors at every one of our sessions we would need 16 ceremonies. That would really be just impossible for us to do,” said Lishak, noting that if the governor were to increase the restriction, the total number of students at each ceremony would increase, but so would the need for additional personnel.

If the attendance limit were to increase to 100, the district would be able to hold four ceremonies of 70 students each over the course of two days – with two taking place on Wednesday, July 8 and another two on Thursday, July 9; the other 30 attendees would be faculty and staff needed to ensure social distancing. 

“Two ceremonies a day would be the maximum we could handle and expect our faculty and administration to be able to attend,” Lishak said, adding, “We know that the governor, as time moves on, will be increasing that number but unless it is significantly increased, having an in-person graduation will almost be impossible.”

If a drive-thru ceremony were to take place, it would most likely be held in the high school parking lot on one of the aforementioned dates. Only one vehicle per family would be allowed, and those in attendance would be required to remain in their car. The ceremony, including traditional speeches, would be broadcast on screens and cars would ‘drive thru’ when the senior’s name is announced. 

Due to current health restrictions, no items, including diplomas, can be distributed at either an in-person or a drive thru ceremony. “That’s the restriction now. I don’t know what it will look like in three weeks,” said Lishak. 

In terms of the senior prom, the district has assured students that the formal dance – initially scheduled for June 4 –will be through the end of July, dependent on venue availability and social distancing restrictions at that time. “We will do what we can up until the 31st,” Lishak said. 

Throughout the hour-long virtual meeting, parents were able to send questions through Zoom that were then read by Director of Guidance Sam Fierra and answered by either Lishak or Interim Principal Robert Diehl. Inquiries included how to obtain gym locker items, caps and gowns, yearbooks, the return of school-owned items such as chromebooks and team uniforms and the fate of the prom. 

In response to a parent’s inquiry about possibly holding the senior prom at the high school, the superintendent said that while she thought it was a great idea,’ the students themselves may not prefer that option. 

“We will consider anything in order to give them some sort of tradition and normalcy to their senior year,” Lishak said

New Jersey school districts are required to submit their graduation plan in writing to the state for approval at least a week prior to the event; Lishak said the goal is to have it finalized and sent by the third week of June. 

According to Lishak, administrators and the board of education are ‘very involved’ in the planning process and ‘know how important the graduation ceremony is’ to the students and their families.

“It is a time that you bask in the glory of all your hard work as a parent and the kids want their families to be a part of it,” she said. “I don’t want you to think for a minute that anybody is taking this lightly. We are really trying to do everything we can… to ensure that our students receive the recognition they deserve and that their parents and family are involved.”

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