Drive-Thru Ceremonies Permitted After Call For Outdoor Graduations

Stephen J. Kotz

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced schools will be permitted to hold drive-in and drive-thru graduation ceremonies this year. The state will reexamine socially-distanced outdoor commencements in the coming month.

After Long Island entered Phase 1 of the New York Forward reopening plan May 27, local officials wrote a letter to the governor asking him to allow school districts that can safely hold outdoor, appropriately-distanced graduation ceremonies to do so in July.

“As residents in our area see people safely gathering in our parks and at our beaches, they would like their local school district to be able to acknowledge students with a much-deserved graduation ceremony,” reads the May 29 letter signed by state Senator Ken LaValle and assemblymen Fred Thiele and Anthony Palumbo. “We feel this is a milestone, that if correctly planned, could be successfully implemented, giving students and their families a safe and appropriate celebration recognizing their years of hard work.”

The trio of state officials said especially for those students not pursuing a higher education, a graduation ceremony is even more important to them and their families.

“We ask that when you meet with your education policy groups, you discuss guidance for school districts allowing them to create a safe and appropriate graduation event that meets Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New York State Department of Health guidelines and protocols,” the officials wrote. “While health and safety remain our priority, we believe that an outdoor ceremony, with limited attendance and social distancing, could be achieved and graduates could celebrate the culmination of their undergraduate learning in a more traditional manner.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Friday he worked with the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association to develop a template for what a safe, live, socially-distanced graduation would look like. He said they will be submitting protocols to the state for review.

He also said parents should be watching their children walk around the stage and receive their high school diploma — an experience every parent dreams of.

“For parents, that’s a huge moment,” Bellone said. “That’s a huge moment for every family. I don’t care who you are.”

As the father of a sixth-grader, the issue hits even close to home.

“She said, ‘I wish I had known that that was going to be last recess with my friends,’” Bellone said. “When you think about that when you hear that from your child it really hits you.”

The county executive said, of course, COVID-19 has turned things upside down, and the public health issue remains paramount, but that perhaps something could still happen later in the summer to celebrate the graduates’ achievements.

“I do believe that later this summer we will be in a position to do this safely,” Bellone said. “Suffolk students and their families deserve the chance to have live high school graduations. This is truly one of life’s special moments for students and parents. The state has said it will be revisiting the issue, and we urge them to do so as quickly as possible.”

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