Officials eyeing late summer graduation ceremonies

Update: 12:30 p.m. Sunday

During his press briefing Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that outdoor, socially distanced graduation ceremonies with up to 150 people may be held starting June 26.

“That’s when the [high schools] start to graduate and it gives us a couple of weeks between now and then, God forbid the number changes,” the governor said. “But schools need to plan with the progress we’ve made so far and if we continue this trajectory, we’ll be able to do that.”

Original story:

Drive-in and drive-through ceremonies and parades are becoming a unique way for the Class of 2020 to commemorate graduation during a global pandemic.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially announced schools could host drive-in events Thursday, county officials and local school districts are holding out hope for in-person ceremonies later this summer.

“Suffolk students and their families deserve the chance to have live high school graduations,” County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement Saturday, announcing the details of a plan created in partnership with the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. “I believe that we can do this safely and therefore we should do this, because this is truly one of life’s special moments for students and parents,” he said, adding that state officials have agreed to revisit the issue in July, when the county nears Phase Four of reopening.

During a briefing Thursday, Gov. Cuomo said he can relate to the frustration felt by students and their families, since his daughter missed out on a traditional college graduation ceremony due to COVID-19.

“I get it,” the governor said. “You don’t want people sick and dead. It’s about death, it’s about balancing the risk versus the reward, balancing the desires and wants versus the consequences.”

He said he hopes the alternative ceremonies will make a difference in the meantime.

The county executive’s plan, submitted to state officials Friday, would require ceremonies to be held in large, outdoor areas. Students would be grouped into cohorts of 10 that would be seated six feet apart and 10 yards away from other cohorts. Face coverings would be required for graduates and their guests, who would also be spaced six feet apart unless they live in the same household and have been quarantined together.

The plan also calls for sanitizing podiums and microphones for speakers and handing out blank diplomas to students on a table to avoid hand to hand contact. It would also ensure students can be photographed without a face covering from a photographer that’s six feet away.

County officials urge that all ceremonies are recorded and also suggest schools set up a live feed behind a Plexiglass barrier near the diploma table to allow students to wave and say something to their family.

The plan has been sent to state officials for review and if the template is approved, county officials said schools can submit their own variation based on the guidelines to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services for approval.

Local school districts are mostly awaiting more guidance before announcing plans.

In a letter to Shoreham-Wading River families May 29, Superintendent Gerard Poole said that in case in-person ceremonies aren’t possible by June 26, the district has tentative plans for a virtual celebration on June 26, then a live graduation on July 17.

“Governor Cuomo does have a template for safe socially distanced outdoor graduations before him and we hope he approves these plants shortly for our Shoreham-Wading River seniors and all seniors in New York State,” Mr. Poole wrote in the letter.

In Riverhead, seniors were celebrated May 22 with a drive-through parade at the high school. District officials are planning to host a virtual graduation and series of socially-distanced in-person events at the end of June.

Mattituck, Southold and Greenport school district officials have not made announcements about graduation ceremonies.