As Schools Plan Graduations, the Goalposts are Moved Again
When it comes to graduating the class of 2020, schools in Upstate New York are really in a tough position. The Governor, State Education Department and the Health Department have been completely silent on the issue; that is, until this week.
This is the week that a lot of conflicting information came out, after many schools already announced their plans. This was also the week that the New Hartford School District was shut down twice by the county and then the state, as they tried to video tape a virtual ceremony.
On Thursday, after shutting down New Hartford's "socially distanced" virtual graduation event on Wednesday, the Governor announced at his daily briefing that he would allow "Drive In" and Drive Thru" graduation ceremonies. At that time, there was no clarification as to what that meant, but it seemed like progress. However, when a reporter asked if there could be "socially distanced" in-person graduations, the Governor asked her if she had been paying attention and then reminded everyone that "people could die" from COVID-19. It seemed any type of "in-person" graduation was out of the question.
Two hours later, the New York State Health Department issued their "Interim Guidance for Graduation Celebrations during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency." The four page report outlined "Drive In" and "Drive Thru" graduation ceremonies and added recommendations on what to do and not to do, going forward. It then referenced options exactly like what New Hartford did, but mandated they be done outside or in a well ventilated covered area.
The reaction from many local school officials was that they were thankful that there were finally guidelines that allowed them to move forward. On Friday, some schools actually solidified and adjusted their plans for graduation. But, that wouldn't be the end of changing the guidelines from the Cuomo Administration.
On Sunday, during Governor Cuomo's daily briefing he added another guideline, conflicting with what the health department laid out on Thursday.
The Governor announced that outdoor, socially distanced graduations of up to 150 people will be allowed starting on June 26th. How would this work? Does that mean a graduating class of 140 students and 10 teachers and/or administrators could hold a ceremony on a stage outdoors? Or, is it 150 students plus the administrators and teachers needed to carry out the event? And the big question, is all of this too late for schools to plan, even if they were able to fit into this category?
This confusion and illogical decision making from New York shouldn't come as a surprise. This is how Governor Cuomo's New York deals with education. It's exactly this type of mixed messaging and "out of touch" decision-making that improperly funds schools in the state, based on politics instead of need.
I guess it would be too difficult to put together a task force made up of educators and school district administrators who are on the ground and understand the process. Instead, we let political figures make the decisions because history shows us that they always know better. I'm being sarcastic.
There is a lack of consistency when it comes to decisions on reopening in New York and it is getting to be very frustrating. People are starting to become impatient when one category is allowed to be open while following safe distancing, and another that seems to be even safer, is not.
This week, I'm contacting my local School district and suggesting these three options for a graduation ceremony that everyone could attend:
1) Oneida Square in Utica and we can call it a demonstration
2) Hold the ceremony at Walmart, Price Chopper or Home Depot
3) Hold graduation at the beach at Verona State Park.
Just be sure to use the bathroom before you go. The beach is open, but the bathrooms are closed.