High school lights during Covid19

The lights were turned on at the Egg Harbor Township football stadium to honor seniors who cannot be in school for their last year due to COVID-19, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. EHT is joining high school around the region in honoring the 12th grade class in this way during the crisis. (VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press)

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — School officials here are again mulling how to proceed with graduation after receiving criticism from the public and school board members on its plan that asks students choose between friends and parents.

“You’ve got to find a way to include the parents in one of the most important things they have done for their son or daughter,” board member Ray Ellis said during Tuesday’s online workshop meeting. “Please do not deprive these parents of their gift.”

Ellis and other board members, including Kristy Bird, Lou Della Barca and board President Pete Castellano, as well as two parents who called in to the meeting during public comment, said they wanted to see more options for graduation, like a drive-thru ceremony or multiple in-person sessions.

Jessica Salerno, a nurse and parent of a senior, said that asking the students to make the choice between their friends and their parents added an unnecessary layer of difficulty to an already difficult situation.

Karrie Davis, also the parent of a senior, said that she felt the district’s handling of graduation plans was “one of the worst” she has seen and lacked compassion for parents.

The issue facing Egg Harbor Township is in part due to the size of the senior class at nearly 600 students. Many area schools devising plans for high school graduations to occur amid social-distancing guidelines received an assist when Gov. Phil Murphy announced outdoor ceremonies could take place with a maximum of 500 people starting July 6.

However, for Egg Harbor Township, which held a virtual ceremony last week, they were holding out hope that the number would go up to at least 1,000 for in-person events, Superintendent Kim Gruccio told the board members.

That hasn’t happened.

“With 600 kids, two parents, you’re talking 1,800 people right there. That was where a choice had to be made,” Gruccio said.

On Monday, the district released a notice to student and parents, which was also posted on the district website, that there would be two options for students to choose from. The first was a full graduation on the field but with no audience.

The second option was individual, shortened ceremonies with parents and students at scheduled times, but without classmates.

Both options will occur on July 8 and students were asked to choose only one by Wednesday.

High School Principal Patty Connor, who called into the meeting to comment on the topic, said that two polls were sent out to students on the issue and that on both polls, the majority of students indicated that they wanted to graduate with their friends.

Gruccio added that the students also told administrators that if they weren’t going to listen to what the students wanted, they shouldn’t even ask.

“It’s a difficult situation,” Gruccio said, adding that she will talk to administrators about it Wednesday to “see where they are.”

“I hear you loud and clear,” she said. “We’ll see how this all turns out.”

Gruccio said Wednesday that she has not received any feedback from the high school at this time. No changes were posted to the district website as of Wednesday morning.

Contact: 609-272-7251

CLowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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