GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP, NJ — Following this week's announcement by Gov. Phil Murphy that schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year, the Black Horse Pike Regional Public School District continues to evaluate ways it can proceed for events scheduled for June, including graduation, board members said during their meeting Thursday evening.
During the public comment portion of their meeting that was held via Zoom, several parents submitted questions and criticisms concerning the district’s plans for graduations at the three high schools next month.
“We appreciate the emotions of not being able to see your children walk across the stage and receive their diplomas,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Repici said. “It sickens us that we’re not able to do the same things for this year’s seniors that we’ve been able to do in the past.”
"We're trying to do this from every angle we can," Board Member Kevin Bucceroni said. "We're keeping all our options open, but we can only do what we can within the law."
New Jersey Coronavirus Updates: Don't miss local and statewide announcements about novel coronavirus precautions. Sign up for Patch alerts and daily newsletters.
The decision to close schools for the rest of the academic year was not set in stone until Monday, when Murphy announced that students would not return to school this year. The governor cast doubts last month on whether graduation events would be feasible. Read more: Gov. Murphy Casts Doubt On NJ Graduations Due To Coronavirus
"I wouldn't put any nonrefundable checks down on your celebrations right now," he said. "It's hard to say otherwise. I'm hope I'm wrong but I fear that I am not."
School districts across the state are in limbo. Board members said they aren’t getting any guidance from anyone at the state level, including the Governor’s Office, the Department of Education and the Department of Health.
Schools have been holding off on plans for graduation in many cases hoping the restrictions on 10-person gatherings will be lifted by graduation time. There’s also the question of whether there will be a prom, which again depends on state social distancing guidelines.
“The 10-person gathering restriction is a killer,” Long said. “If it’s lifted, we can reassess everything.”
The likelihood that the restriction will be lifted before graduation took a hit on Wednesday when Murphy extended New Jersey's public health emergency for another 30 days, to June 7. The school board is scheduled to meet the same day. Read more here: 4 Things To Know As NJ Gets Closer To Restart
According to an email from Repici to Patch on Friday morning, each senior student was sent a memorandum outlining the senior events on May 1, 2020. It was crafted and written prior to Murphy's expansion of the closure of schools, but the memorandum specified the following events would be held, remotely, if current limitations remain in force:
- Curricular Honor Society Inductions;
- People's Choice Awards;
- Miss Mustang/ Miss TC;
- Decision Day;
- College Signing Day;
- Spring Concert and/or Dance Concert;
- Performing Arts Show/Pen to Mic/Spring Coffee House/Multi-Cultural Fair;
- Spring Musical cast highlights posted to our website;
- Art Show;
- Academic Awards;
- Athletic Awards;
- Cap and Gown Distribution;
- Yearbook Distribution; and
- Graduation plans include a virtual graduation ceremony if limitations are not lifted, for June 16. The district also plans an in-person graduation ceremony for July 23, if limitations are lifted.
"In addition, I am working with parents on the Home & School Councils, Parent/Teacher Partnerships, and Gloucester Township, Runnemede, and Bellmawr Police Departments, along with assistance from local fire companies, to hold three parades through the towns in honor of our graduates," Repici said. "The District will purchase streamers and window markers for the students. We will publicize the parade routes as devised by our local police officers so that we can have a community turnout in support of our students. Those tentative dates are June 22 for Highland; June 23 for Timber Creek; and June 24 for Triton."
He said the district is also purchasing personalized lawn signs for each graduate, and those will be available to each senior as soon as they are printed. So long as the student had their picture taken for the yearbook or ID, they will have their senior year photo on the lawn sign, he said.
"We recognize, and I hope the general public realizes, that plans may change as governmental direction becomes available or regulations soften," Repici said. "For now, we have to plan based on the information we have and within the limitations set forth by the government."