Westfield Superintendent, School Board President Address Parents’ Issues with 2018 Graduation Location

WHS's graduation ceremony is planned to be held on the back field behind school, with the inclement weather location the varsity gymnasium in a departure from past years' ceremonies. Credits: Guy Kipp

WESTFIELD, NJ — Due to the potential of Kehler Field being re-turfed, Westfield High School will hold its graduation ceremony on June 22 on the back field behind Westfield High School, with the inclement weather location the varsity gymnasium, a departure from past years' ceremonies when the inclement weather location was the larger Westfield Armory across the street.

In a letter emailed to the parents of graduating Westfield High School seniors and TAPinto Westfield Friday morning, Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan and Board of Education President Gretchan Ohlig addressed parents' issues with the changes.

Dolan and Ohlig wrote:

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Dear Parents/Guardians,

In response to questions raised regarding plans for this year’s graduation at Westfield High School, we wish to correct some misconceptions and provide more background:

  1. As it has done for many years, the school district reserved the National Guard Armory last July as the backup location for this year’s graduation on June 22, should inclement weather require an indoor ceremony.
  2. The National Guard notified the district only recently that its facility was no longer available due to annual training booked for the same day.  Efforts to see if the National Guard could reschedule its training were unsuccessful.
  3. Immediately upon hearing from the National Guard, the administration and board members began vetting other venues, including Kean, Union County College, Rutgers, and many other options.
  4. As stated in Wednesday’s email from WHS principal Dr. Derrick Nelson, these venues are not large enough to accommodate a WHS graduating class and their families, are not available, and/or are logistically or cost prohibitive.
  5. Other possibilities, such as the use of tents or changing the date of graduation also were discussed and determined not to be viable options.  Tents pose a safety risk if there is  thunder and lightning.  As for changing the date, State requirements as to the number of days students must attend school prohibit us from moving the date up while delaying the graduation could adversely affect those who have paid for travel and/or summer plans.
  6. Dr. Nelson and his staff subsequently determined that the varsity gymnasium could accommodate the graduates and two guests with an additional two guests invited to view a live stream of the graduation in the WHS auditorium, cafeterias or student center.
  7. The Westfield assistant fire chief and city inspector evaluated the WHS gymnasium for capacity purposes just last week and granted permission to hold the ceremony in the gym with our senior class and 2 guests per student.
  8. Once we had fully examined the options and received permission from the fire department and city inspector, Dr. Nelson was able to notify parents.

Please know that we understand that this unexpected change to our inclement weather location is not ideal.  A few years ago, the Westfield High School administration convened a committee of parents and staff to investigate alternatives to the use of the Armory as a rain location for graduation.  That committee concluded that there were no viable alternative local venues.  This continues to be the case.  Accordingly, we believe the gym is the best available indoor alternative for this year’s graduation.

As Dr. Nelson stated in his email, the outdoor location for the graduation will be held on the back field behind Westfield High School.  By way of background, the Board announced the summer renovations at Kehler Stadium more than one year ago.  Pursuant to plans intended to minimize disruption to both the Spring and Fall sport seasons, the intention was to begin demolition at Kehler on May 7, meaning that graduation would be held on the high school field.  A lawsuit filed by one of the bidders has delayed the project with a hearing date set for June 7.  We will notify you as soon as possible if we are able to move the graduation to Kehler Stadium.

We are committed to providing a ceremony that is respectful and honors our students who have worked hard for the past four years.

Thank you for your understanding.

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