MERIDEN — School officials finalized graduation plans Tuesday based on three student criteria — students wanted to be with their classmates, at their schools, and have it in person.
After discussing options, and guidance from the governor’s office and city health and human services director, the ad hoc graduation committee decided on a downloadable production that includes speeches, a livestreamed graduate procession the day before, senior photos and classroom and club pictures to memorialize an extraordinary year.
The final video will be made available on June 12 at 6 p.m. on the Platt and Maloney high school websites, officials said, with a rain date of June 13 at the same time.
“The detailed plans at Maloney and Platt will allow them to receive their diploma from their principal,” Superintendent Mark Benigni said. “The board wanted to make graduation 2020 as special as possible for our seniors, as they have experienced something like no other class before them. Families are encouraged to view the video ceremony together.”
Members of the graduation committee, which consisted of administrators, Board of Education members, student representatives and principals at both high schools, detailed the plan during a video conference Tuesday morning.
There will be two cap and gown processions on June 11, complete with school-logo masks at each of the two high schools. The graduating class will be divided alphabetically in half, with the first half walking at 10 a.m. and the second at 1 p.m. Students will be dropped off and walk to the football fields, where they will maintain a six-foot distance and no spectators are allowed. Once students receive their diplomas, they may remove the mask for a picture with a professional photographer hired by the schools. The students must then exit the property. Parents can only drop off the student and view the procession via livestream on the school’s website. There will be no cap toss.
The June 11 procession will be video recorded and edited into the final graduation production, scheduled for broadcast the next day. School officials have also arranged for two 28-page special sections in the Record-Journal of graduate coverage and best wishes, as well as lawn signs to be placed at graduates’ homes, and specially-made banners, provided by the Dalio Foundation.
Some parents joined Tuesday’s call and expressed frustration that students could not have a parent with them when they receive their diploma.
“We live with these students, I don’t see why there can’t be an escort,” said one Maloney parent.
Officials said social distancing and crowd-size guidelines prevented having parents be part of the procession, or remain on the football fields as spectators.
“You will be able to watch the livestream procession edited into the full graduation,” Benigni said. “Let that be your special night for celebration. Have dinner ready.”
Parents also complained that they weren’t provided an opportunity for input and one asked why an idea for a drive-through diploma ceremony wasn’t considered.
Maloney High School Principal Jennifer Straub replied that there was uncertainty over the number of students in cars, traffic along Gravel Street and for some students who might not have access to a car.
The committee considered delaying graduation until July 6, when Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to increase crowd guidelines to 150 people. But with the number of students graduating at two tickets per student, it was estimated the schools would need to hold six different ceremonies to accommodate the crowds safely. There was also the uncertainty. If the public health situation does not improve sufficiently, students and families would be disappointed twice.
August ceremonies were ruled out because of the logistics of trying to gather families and students who might be away on vacation or attending college orientations. ‘True celebration’
Student representatives on the video call said they were satisfied overall with the plan and recognized the school officials’ limitations.
In an interview last week, Platt High School senior Rebecca Wozniak agreed that school officials had a tough challenge and tried hard for the students, but this year, “disappointment is the new norm.”
“I am a fan of the graduation plan. Although it’s not a traditional graduation, which, of course, would be the ideal option,” said Sydney Bernier. “The feedback from students has been mostly positive, which is quite a relief considering how much myself, another student and faculty have met concerning this. I hope the class of 2020 can have as many opportunities to be recognized in such a difficult time.”
Board of Education President Robert Kosienski acknowledged the parents’ complaints and said that while the committee tried to create a traditional graduation, public safety concerns over spreading the pandemic prevented many of the ideas from going forward.
“Believe me, we love your kids and there’s nothing we would like to do more than to give them the best that we can,” Kosienski said. “We have this in place. Is it ideal? No. You will be able to see it livestreamed. It’s going to be a true celebration of the Platt and Maloney seniors.”