Gov. Andrew Cuomo dropped two big pieces of education news Sunday as he extended the ballot deadline in school elections and enabled outdoor high school graduation ceremonies of up to 150 people.
The school election decision will allow residents to have their votes counted in school budget and school board elections if their mailed ballot is received by school district officials by June 16, a week later than the earlier June 9 deadline.
The new deadline comes as residents in some districts – including a handful of Capital Region districts – had not received their absentee ballots as of Friday due to mail delays, envelope shortages and other challenges associated with sending ballots directly to eligible voters under a compressed timeline.
School district officials had been planning to begin counting all ballots received by June 9 at 5 p.m. on Tuesday night with an eye toward finalizing what has been a long and unprecedented school budget process. But the governor’s latest order will delay by another week districts getting approval for budgets and school board candidates finding out whether they won a seat. The new budget year and school board terms begin July 1.
As a wave of districts last week announced delays in voters receiving ballots in the mail, with little time remaining to return the ballots and meet the June 9 deadline, lawmakers called on the governor to buy more time for voters to get ballots returned.
But Cuomo’s decision was greeted with mixed reactions among the associations that represent various education interests, expressing concerns the change could cause confusion for voters where ballots weren’t delayed and giving school district officials another last-minute change to adapt to.
Ballots being dropped directly in lockboxes and other sites established at school sites still must be received by the June 9 at 5 p.m. deadline, according to Cuomo’s announcement.
Cuomo on Sunday also said he would allow school districts to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies of no more than 150 people beginning June 26. The events would have to observe social distancing protocols.
The governor had previously enabled districts to host graduation’s at drive-in movie theaters, but Sunday’s announcement will allow districts to host more traditional ceremonies, even as participation of educators, families and friends will be strictly limited under the 150-person threshold.
While the Capital Region’s largest districts graduate well over 500 students each year, many districts have graduating classes with just dozens of students and will comfortably fall under the governor’s participation limits.
Many districts, though, have already set careful plans to honor graduates, and it’s unclear how districts will adapt to the new rules. Students, though, have widely expressed a desire to have a chance to celebrate their accomplishments in person with their classmates.