New York state Senate Democrats and others are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to follow New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s lead when it comes to graduations. Murphy said Tuesday that graduations can take place beginning July 6 in person, outdoors and adhering to social distancing guidelines.
State Senator Shelley Mayer of the 37th district, who chairs the Education Committee, believes there is a safe way to celebrate such a milestone. Fellow Democratic Senator Jen Metzger, who signed onto the letter, agrees.
“We strongly believe that we can allow our schools to have graduations in person, provided that they continue to follow all the protocols that we’ve been following all along — the social distancing protocols,” Metzger says. “And so we’ve sent a letter to the governor urging him to enable this to happen and provide any necessary guidance on this.”
The May 27th letter refers specifically to holding high school graduations outdoors and in person in July, by maintaining social distancing and following public health guidelines set by the state Department of Health. State Senator James Skoufis is also from the Hudson Valley, representing the 39th District.
“After we sent that letter to the governor’s office urging, pushing for state guidance and authority for school districts to move forward with outdoor, in person, safely conducted graduation ceremonies, I did hear that the governor’s office is now beginning to look at doing this,” Skoufis says. “They’re actively working on it, and I’m told that they will be making an announcement or coming out with something very shortly.”
A spokesperson from Cuomo’s office did not return a request for comment in time for this broadcast.
“It absolutely has to be a socially distant ceremony, no one within six feet of one another. I believe there needs to be a mandate that everyone must wear masks, participants, students administrators, parents, again, everyone’s got to wear masks. And I believe there needs to be a zero-tolerance approach with enforcement,” says Skoufis. “If you are trying to get into one of these ceremonies without a mask, I’m sorry, turn around. You can’t be allowed in. That’s, and I believe if all of those things are done, have a ceremony out in the football field, have a ceremony out in the park. I don’t see any reason why that cannot be done safely and really preserve this life moment for these graduates.”
Republican Assemblyman Colin Schmitt represents part of Orange County and one town in Rockland. He also sent a letter to Cuomo urging him to authorize the same as Governor Murphy — in person, outdoor, socially distanced middle school, high school and college graduations. The Mid-Hudson Region began Phase One of reopening Tuesday. Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro says any such outdoor graduations should conform to benchmarks for larger gatherings, assuming coronavirus metrics are continually met and there is no backsliding.
“I think all seven counties in the region are proceeding as if late July into the August month, we will be safe enough to have those larger, public events with those safety plans,” says Molinaro. “A graduation with physical distancing could be manageable late July into August in the Mid-Hudson Region.”
Per Governor Cuomo, drive-in movie theaters statewide were allowed to open beginning May 15. Skoufis and Metzger had been calling on the state to permit school districts to use drive-in theaters as a venue for graduation ceremonies. Metzger, whose 42nd District includes all of Sullivan County and parts of Delaware, Orange and Ulster Counties, says she’s spoken with the owner of the Warwick Drive-In Theater in Orange County, who has been booking a lot of drive-in graduations.
“She had college medical graduations scheduled. She had a whole list of scheduled graduations. But, I also, I’ve talked to school administrators in Sullivan County. They don’t have a drive-in, but their kids, their parents, they really want to be able to have this ceremony," Metzger says. "So it’s really important that we enable schools to come up with some creative plans to do this, to mark this important occasion.”
She and Skoufis wrote the state Education Department in early May about looking into ways to commemorate high school graduations, such as at drive-ins.