WEST ESSEX, NJ — As the school year formally draws to a close after an unprecedent mandatory requirement to close the school buildings, the administration is continuing to formalize the end of the year plans and high school graduation.

Superintendent Damion Macioci stated that plans are being coordinated with the municipal Health Officer in order for the staff and students to retrieve personal items left in the lockers and classrooms, medications from the nurses office and the return of Chromebooks and textbooks.  He confirmed that for the High School the first priority will be to distribute senior caps and gowns which will take place next week.

Board President Maryadele Wojtowicz updated the community that she along with the Superintendent, Business Administrator Melissa Kida and West Essex High School principal Caesar Diliberto met with the four sending district police departments along with the Health Officer to discuss graduation plans and the logistics of how that will work.   She stated: “I just want to acknowledge all their efforts to make sure we have the best graduation possible under the restrictions the State has given us.  I know a lot of thought and work have gone into planning this graduation.  I am not sure if everyone is aware of how much time they have put into planning and the different options/scenarios they have gone through.  Caesar Diliberto has put a lot of time into creating his graduation plans and we are very grateful for all of his creative ideas and planning for each scenario.  This was not an easy undertaking.” 

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Wojtowicz confirmed the Senior Awards, in addition to the National and Junior Honor Societies Inductions were held virtually and she congratulated all.

Commenting on graduation plans, Macioci gave a brief history on the constantly changing and at times conflicting directives from the Department of Education (DOE), Attorney General and Executive Orders issued by Governor Murphy’s office.  He said that on May 8th the DOE issued the directive that all graduations must be virtual; May 9th, the Attorney General decreed that there would be no “wave parades”, May 27th the DOE stated that “wave” parades were allowed and in-person graduations were allowable after July 6th limited to 25 people, May 28th more guidelines followed.  The day after the board of education meeting once again different guidelines were issued which confirmed more directives will be issued June 22nd and again July 6th.  Macioci said that the administration has been working on different scenarios for several weeks and he commended Diliberto and his team for their efforts as they have created multiple scenarios for different options as the directives are updated. 

Diliberto confirmed that as per state code diplomas must be distributed legally by June 30th.  In preparation for the June 19th graduation recordings were to be made that would have included the valedictorian, salutatorian, principal,  superintendent and the board president but now that the Executive Order has been changed again the pre-recording of speeches will be on hold for the time being according to Wojtowicz.

Wojtowicz remarked that “since our board meeting on Monday night, we have heard that Governor Murphy is increasing the number of people we are able to have at graduation to a total of 500 after July 6th. We are very excited to be able to have a bigger graduation celebration for our seniors and we are working on one of our other plans. Caesar Diliberto is sending out a survey to students and parents today.” 

Diliberto issued the following statement Tuesday: “Administration is very aware that everyone is eager to know about plans for graduation.  As stated previously, plans were being developed for four different graduation ceremonies.  Circumstances have been changing rapidly.  Mandates and guidelines from the State have been unpredictable.  Therefore, we were withholding commitment to a specific format until June.  As of last night, we were ready to proceed with a hybrid of a virtual graduation and an in-person diploma distribution at the stadium.  Even in preparing to execute that hybrid, we have not abandoned other options, and have remained ready to adjust should State mandates change drastically.  Well they have changed drastically again today.  Outdoor gatherings and graduation restrictions changed today and are expected to change again on June 22 and July 6.  In the next 24 hours seniors and parents of seniors will receive a survey asking which options are preferable given the anticipated changes in outdoor gathering capacity.  Thank you for your patience.”

Seeking input from the graduating class and their parents Diliberto disseminated a survey garnering preferences.  The notification read in part: 

“Yesterday Governor Murphy announced, effective immediately, maximum capacity for outdoor gatherings is at 100.  On June 22, maximum capacity for outdoor gatherings is anticipated to be 250.  On July 6, maximum capacity for outdoor gatherings is anticipated to increase to 500.  This changes our graduation options significantly, including the possibility of delaying ceremonies.  Please keep in mind these changes are anticipated, and they may not change at all.  

Based on this new information, we are considering the following graduation options.  Please note we can accommodate more classmates, and possibly the entire class, if there are no guests.  All ceremonies would be live streamed.  

  • On or about June 19 - virtual graduation with in-person diploma distribution
  • Thursday, June 25 - 4 graduation ceremonies with 2 guests per graduate
  • Thursday, June 25 - 2 graduation ceremonies with students only (no guests)
  • Thursday, July 9 - 2 graduation ceremonies with 2 guests per graduate
  • Thursday, July 9 - 1 graduation ceremony with students only (no guests)

Both June 25 and July 9 ceremony options include a mandatory graduation practice for all graduates.   Should capacity mandates change again, we will adjust attendance accordingly.  However, West Essex High School must commit to a date.” 

During public comment despite the constantly changing directives issued by the Governor and  the multiple scenarios being adapted daily in order to comply, some parents were not impressed with the planning of the various types of graduations that were being considered while others reserved their criticism for the contradictory and inconsistent messages put forth by Governor Murphy’s Executive Orders.

Wendy Nash a North Caldwell resident stated that she was “very disappointed” and that the plans were a “big let down to kids, parents and teachers”.  She commented that the pre-recorded virtual messages were “uninspired” and that there will “never be closure for this year” and said the plans should be “more creative and inspired.”  Nash commented that she “appreciates what you are doing but it doesn’t seem like a lot.”

Alicia Amile, of North Caldwell stated that she was “not overly impressed” and commented that the administration was “lazy”, furthermore she stated that the plan for limit of four people in attendance, at a time to receive diplomas for the June 19th plans was “arbitrary and capricious.”  

Macioci explained that the rationale for capping the number of students and family members were due to the constraint of 25 people allowed to assemble at a time.  Noting there would be four family members receiving the diploma, four waiting to step up, four leaving the platform plus the staff on hand to perform the ceremony, the 25 people on the turf at any given moment was a decision made to comply with the requirements.  The superintendent confirmed that the “July was still on the table and the district was completely open to a graduation ceremony then.”

High school senior Armand Liloia criticized the administration by stating that “the school was not reaching out and asking our opinions and it feels like they {administration} are lazy and doing the bare minimum.”  He continued: “we are the ones really affected and it is disappointing but not surprising.”

Nick Stampone, also a senior thanked the administration and the board of education and stated: “some of the comments tonight are not grateful and thankful and I resent the way things are being categorized.  They are not lazy and not ‘out to get us’.   They are trying and I thank you.”

Ronna Wolf, a resident of North Caldwell asked what the parents can do to assist to make the ceremony more memorable.  She suggested parents can decorate signs, assist in a compilation of a screen montage, provide a DJ for the ceremony and to decorate cars.  Wolf suggested engaging the yearbook staff to create a montage.  Diliberto stated the campus will have a festive look and he will think about opportunities for parents getting involved.

Board of Education member Jill Marcus stated that she “hears the frustration, the emotional exhaustion and disappointment” but supported and acknowledged the work that the administration has done to date involving the multiple scenarios and constantly changing directives issued.

Parent Mark Deuer, who is North Caldwell’s Chief of Police, directed his frustration and criticism toward Governor Murphy’s conflicting Executive Orders.  Deuer commented there was a “huge double standard regarding the protests (Black Lives Matter) which the Governor has allowed.”   Deuer stated that there was a “huge disconnect” observing that there was a right to protest but “these kids have a right to be a part of a graduation.”  He continued:  “everyone remembers their high school graduation….these kids have lost everything and if the Governor doesn’t open his eyes and see that we can make this work safely….someone has to make a stance and it has to be the DOE  because they have that voice.”

Parent Amy Gallarents agreed with Deuer commenting that many more have assembled at “protests and Costco” than were allowed to assemble for graduations.

Diliberto and his staff will compile the results of the survey and confirmed that a decision will be coming within the next few days as to how the district will proceed.