Graduates protest graduation plans

Graduating Gloversville High School Seniors on Monday assembled at McNab Elementary School to protest graduation plans developed by the Gloversville Enlarged School District. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — A group of roughly 20 graduating seniors assembled at McNab Elementary School on Monday to protest the Gloversville Enlarged School District’s graduation plans that include a commencement processional to be attended by the entire class of 2020 without families present.

The move to restrict parents from attending the in-person processional at Husky Field at Park Terrace Elementary School on Friday will allow the district to maintain compliance with the state’s 150-person cap on in-person graduation ceremonies due to the coronavirus while bringing the entire graduating class of 143 students together one last time.

The celebration at Husky Field will see students in caps, gowns and face masks receive their high school diplomas. The event will be filmed and incorporated into a virtual graduation video that will be screened at the Ozoner 29 Drive-In in Broadalbin on July 20 for both students and families to attend.

The virtual graduation video will also include footage of seniors crossing the stage at Gloversville High School in June in their caps and gowns receiving their “diplomas,” actually a prop diploma case.

Students were brought to the high school one at a time over the course of three days to film the individual graduation ceremonies with district administrators and members of the Board of Education. A professional photographer took photos of each student for distribution to families free of charge and each student was able to bring two family members to observe the occasion and take photos of their own.

Graduating senior Dante Bouchard on Monday said the individual ceremonies were a “cool back-up plan,” but after seeing what other school districts organized, he and other seniors felt that Gloversville could have done more.

“It was sad, it was kind of fake,” Bouchard said of the June event. “We were hoping for an in-person graduation, something like at the other schools around here, breaking it up into smaller groups and to have our families be able to see us graduate, actually in-person.”

“I definitely think that they are doing what they can to follow guidelines and be safe about it, but I also think that it could have been done in a lot of different ways,” said graduating senior Rhea Winter. “I know other schools have been trying to do a lot of different things to be able to make their students safe, but also happy and satisfied with their graduations.”

Bouchard and Winter organized the protest on Monday after reaching out to other students in the class of 2020 and finding that roughly one third of their classmates agreed that the planned commencement activities are not what students were hoping for.

“We’ve heard from probably over 40 to 50 students who feel that this is wrong,” said Bouchard. “Who felt we were kind of cheated and that our school didn’t try hard enough.”

Members of the senior class gathered at McNab to sign a petition asking the school district to consider holding a series of in-person commencement ceremonies that both students and families can attend.

Bouchard suggested the feat could be accomplished with three ceremonies at Husky Field attended by a maximum of 48 graduates with two parents or guardians per student. Seating students with their families at individual tables spaced six feet apart would allow each individual to enjoy the ceremony without having to wear masks for the duration of the event while minimizing the amount of sanitizing that would be required between each ceremony, he added.

“I feel like that would be totally satisfying for all of the students who weren’t able to participate in the decision as well,” said Winter.

According to Bouchard and Winter, only a portion of the student body received emails seeking their input on graduation plans.

“They kind of broke it down to just a certain amount of people and so it was kind of what they wanted and I don’t think our whole class had a say in what we wanted,” said Bouchard. “My family’s been here with me through this whole way and I feel like they should be able to watch me cross the stage in-person.”

That’s what Donna Pickering, the mother of a graduating senior, on Monday said she had been looking forward to for the past 12 years.

“Watching him cross that stage with his friends and throwing that cap up in the air,” said Pickering. “To see it on screen, it’s just not the same.”

Pickering organized a protest against the district’s graduation plans for parents to attend today at the four corners, the intersection of Main and Fulton Streets, at 4 p.m. in hopes that the district will split graduation up into multiple ceremonies that students and families can attend, similar to what some other local school district have done.

“I realize where the school district is coming from, but they could have done it in ceremonies to where the parents could attend and that’s why the seniors are here today,” said Pickering. “Because they don’t understand why they couldn’t do it in ceremonies to where their parents could attend.”

Pickering has two younger children respectively entering the sixth and seventh grades in the city school district whose graduations she will one day be able to attend, but she pointed out that for some parents, this will be their only opportunity to see their child graduate.

“They worked 12 years to get to this point, parents have pushed their children to get up every morning to go to school, do their work and they can’t see it,” said Pickering. “I am hoping that they take and split it up into ceremonies to where the students can at least have their parents see them accomplish this big achievement.”

After collecting signatures on their petition at McNab on Monday, the graduating seniors traveled to Gloversville High School bearing signs voicing their opinions on the district’s commencement plans.

The students were admitted to the entrance of the administration office where Gloversville High School Principal Richard DeMallie heard the alternate commencement plans proposed by students.

Winter expressed appreciation to DeMallie for what the school district did to support students during the closure of schools this spring, while requesting that the district consider reorganizing graduation plans to satisfy the wishes of both students and parents.

DeMallie thanked the students for sharing their ideas for graduation and agreed to share the proposal with Superintendent David Halloran and the Board of Education. Following the brief interaction, the students dispersed, expressing optimism that district administrators would consider their opinions while also planning to participate in the protest scheduled for today.

Halloran when contacted seeking comment later Monday expressed sympathy for seniors who had their final year of high school upended, while stating that the district’s announced graduation plans are final.

“I respect their thoughts on the matter, but the Board of Education and I are in full agreement … we’ve taken the appropriate steps to celebrate the class of 2020,” said Halloran.

Halloran pointed to the individual ceremonies at the high school as providing parents an opportunity to see their child cross the stage, the filmed ceremony at Husky Field on Friday as fulfilling a request from students to bring their entire class together one last time and the screening of the virtual graduation at the Ozoner on July 20 as allowing students, families and friends a chance to safely celebrate together.

“We’ve done more than any district that I’m aware of,” said Halloran.

Halloran noted that the district delayed moving ahead with graduation plans until this month in hopes that the state would lift the 150-person cap on graduation ceremonies to allow a nearly normal ceremony for students and families.

With it now clear that the restrictions will not be eased and both the district and the superintendent open to penalties for non-compliance with state mandates, Halloran pointed to the previous and upcoming events as an attempt by the district to meet as many of the wishes of students and parents as possible.

He noted that both he and the senior class advisors heard from an overwhelming majority of seniors that they most desired a chance to be together as a whole class one last time after months of being separated, leading to the plans for the event at Husky Field on Friday. If the district instead held multiple ceremonies for smaller groupings of students and parents, Halloran said it would essentially be no different than the individual ceremonies the district organized for parents to attend in June.

“Had we not done that, maybe I would be more apprehensive,” Halloran said. “Kids told me they wanted to be together as a class one more time. I’m satisfied with what we’ve done.”

“This has been a good class; I wish them the best. I look forward to celebrating with them on Friday and at the Ozoner on the 20th,” he added.

By Patricia Older