SPRINGFIELD, NJ — In a special session meeting of the Springfield Board of Education (BOE) yesterday morning, the board approved a modified graduation ceremony plan, although some parents in town feel it does not go far enough in honoring the class of 2020.
The sole action item on the agenda at the meeting, which was approved by the BOE, was an application by the BOE for modified graduation plan. The presentation on the application was outlined by Jonathan Dayton High School (JDHS) Principal Dr. Norman Francis during the meeting.
The plan for the modified ceremony, which will take place on July 21, with a rain date of the following day, calls for small groups of students to be assigned times to come to the turf field at JDHS. Once they arrive, they will walk across the field, where they will receive a diploma cover and have their name announced and video of their walk captured for posterity.
After they leave the field, the plan also allows for students and their families to take a picture under the main clock tower.
New Superintendent Rachel Goldberg, who started at the beginning of the month spoke to the process of meeting with school administrators to go over what would eventually be voted on.
"On my first day, which was on Wednesday July 1st, I met with Dr. Francis to discuss the options that were being considered for a modified in-person graduation event," Goldberg said. "Dr. Francis had meticulously prepared multiple options, and we looked closely at the data regarding the current status of the coronavirus in New Jersey and of course across the nation. Together with multiple inputs, we agreed upon the presentation that's being presented today."
As Dr. Francis noted, the final plan began to take shape after speaking with students, and asking what they hoped to get from an in-person ceremony.
"After speaking with the students, and understanding that one of the things they really wanted to have was a chance to walk across the stage if you will,to pick up their diploma and have that opportunity with their family members," Francis said. He also noted that once the in-person ceremony was filmed, it would be spliced together with the previously-aired virtual graduation ceremony.
As Dr. Francis noted, multiple precautions will be taken under the BOE plan, including adhering to executive order 163 that requires facemasks to be worn outdoors, placing hand sanitizer stations around the ceremonial route and laying down social distancing markers to help celebrants keep their distance.
Dr. Francis also emphasized that communication with students is key, and that along with emails going out to students and their parents about the ceremony there would be regular communication in the days leading up to it.
While members of the board spoke about the graduation plan in a positive light, several parents of students in the district and the senior class also voiced their displeasure with the method chosen for graduation, and advocated for a traditional ceremony.
One of the comments in favor of a more traditional ceremony came from Springfield resident Laura Delia, whose husband Tony sits on the BOE. Delia spoke about what she saw as a number of reasons why a similar ceremony could take place at JDHS, as it has elsewhere in the state. Her comments came in the form of an email to the BOE;
"I or I should say “we” the parents of the Dayton Class of 2020, are still perplexed as to how so many other districts similar in size to us or larger than us seem to be able to do a Live In-person graduation (meaning the FULL class at once) yet, our district can’t seem to?
"Frankly, it infuriates us," Delia said. "There is plenty of room for social distancing on our football field and you can require masks to be worn by all who attend. If a family feels this is unsafe, they have the right not to show up. However, the consensus seems to be that we want a FULL class graduation."
Delia then went on to list a number of schools in the area, including Cranford, Scotch Plains and Clark, who have all held modified ceremonies for their students. As she finished her email, Delia added one final request to the BOE to consider a solution that hewed closer to the expectations of parents in the district.
She added, "We are asking the Board members, the Superintendent and the administration to reconsider. Please take the time and research these districts and please provide us with an educated reason why this cannot happen here in Springfield."
Following discussion from board members, and a second round of public comment, the BOE voted to approve the application and move towards the ceremony as laid out in the presentation.