Just a month ago New Jersey was in the epicenter of the coronavirus, in the national spotlight with deaths rising along with New York City.
The governor closed the state’s beaches for weeks and put in stay-at-home restrictions like other governors.
Today, New Jersey is coming back, and last week Gov. Phil Murphy announced that in-person, outdoor graduation ceremonies could be held in the state starting July 6.
Murphy’s decision on commencements was long-awaited, as some teens held hope that their final year in high school could end in a traditional cap-and-gown ceremony. The governor stressed that social distancing must be in place and there might have to be multiple ceremonies “to be held across different times and days.”
The New Jersey decision caught our attention as Wisconsin school districts, including those locally, steer clear of in-person commencements even in July.
How, may we ask, can a state with so many cases and COVID-19 deaths allow these milestones to happen for students in July and our state can’t?
And how, may we ask, can we allow people to line up in Walmart every single day and not allow our graduates to pick up their diplomas in ceremonies?
Locally, Waterford Union High School showed it could happen, and we applaud the Racine County school. It was all smiles on Sunday as Waterford graduates received their diplomas before their families in a gymnasium set up for social distancing.
“I’ve been waiting 12 years for this,” said Mary Werth, proud of her son, Hunter. “We deserved to see this.”
She and every parent in attendance certainly did. It can work, and Waterford showed us how.
Now it’s time for Kenosha Unified and Racine Unified School Districts to schedule in-person commencement ceremonies in July.
KUSD initially did that and then backed off two weeks ago, citing state and county restrictions. Its plan to hold a virtual ceremony in late July sparked protests last week by members of the Class of 2020 who want what they deserve.
And we want that for them. There is nothing bigger for a family and for the community at large than celebrating high school graduations.
It’s this way every year, and it should be this way in 2020 too.
Why can’t the Kenosha Unified and Racine Unified districts use their stadiums for outdoor commencements with social distancing in place in the stands?
The graduates, walking to pick up their diplomas, are not in any danger of getting the virus according to CDC guidelines that say it takes 10 minutes at 6-feet distance to have any spread.
And families maintaining social distance in the stadium would not have any problem either. To do it right, maybe the big schools would have to have two or three stadium ceremonies.
Let’s do this, KUSD and RUSD. Give the Class of 2020 the celebration it deserves.
And if these districts and this state and the counties can’t authorize and do this, we question whether any plan to reopen schools in person and on schedule locally will happen.
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