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Coming soon to a drive-in theater near you due to COVID-19: High school graduation?

Coming soon to a drive-in theater near you due to COVID-19: High school graduation?

Local lawmakers are asking for guidance on graduation ceremonies
Coming soon to a drive-in theater near you due to COVID-19: High school graduation?
The Malta Drive In in 2019, one of several drive-in movie theaters in the area
Photographer: Erica Miller/Staff Photographer

State Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, on Monday joined a growing chorus of voices calling on the governor to enable school districts to move forward with graduation ceremonies in some form – maybe at drive-in movie theaters.

As school districts eye the remainder of the academic calendar, one major event stands out for many students and parents: graduation. With school facilities closed for the rest of the year and social distancing protocols still in place, it's not clear what kind of graduation ceremonies school districts will be able to provide the class of 2020.

But parents and lawmakers have started to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to outline guidelines for districts to host graduation ceremonies of some kind.

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“The virus is taking everything from us: It's taking our life, it's separating families, it's destroying businesses, taking jobs away,” Tedisco said Monday. “[High school graduation] is a memory that is a lifelong thing kids aspire to. It's something we wouldn't want to let escape us, that memory continues for the rest of your life.”

Tedisco's letter calls on the governor to support the “outside-the-box approach” of allowing schools to hold graduation ceremonies at drive-in theaters.

“While it's certainly not the same thing as a traditional high school graduation ceremony, we think we have a unique solution that could work statewide for some school districts and communities,” Tedisco wrote.

Last week, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, wrote a letter to the governor asking for guidelines that would allow some districts to host in-person ceremonies while adhering to social distancing rules, suggesting some ceremonies could be held at a school football field.

It's still not clear what districts will be allowed to do, so school and districts leaders are starting to brainstorm ideas ranging from all-virtual events to an event pre-recorded and aired on the screens of a drive-in movie theater. Family and students could attend the event together but stay in their cars as they watched a picture of each graduates tick across the screen.

Parents at Mohonasen and Schalmont, both school districts represented by Santabarbara, have said they would still like to see the district host an in-person graduation ceremony for seniors. Parents and others have noted the many events seniors have lost out on – from spring college visits to senior proms – and argued districts should do something to leave students with a final memory of high school.

It's still not clear what districts will be allowed to do, so school and districts leaders are starting to brainstorm ideas ranging from all-virtual events to an event pre-recorded and aired on the screens of a drive-in movie theater. Family and students could attend the event together but stay in their cars as they watched a picture of each graduates tick across the screen.

Ed Caro, owner of the Malta Drive In, said he is willing and able to host graduation ceremonies if permitted by state officials.

“Two weeks ago, I started getting messages on the answering machine at the drive in: 'Hi, I'm this school principal. ...'” Caro said. He said he has had discussions with 10 school districts exploring graduation options, districts in Saratoga, Schenectady and Albany counties.

Caro said if allowed by the state he could halve the number of parking spots at the theater – doubling the space between each spot – and still have enough space for 400 cars. He said schools could pre-produce a video for the ceremony, airing speeches and a picture or short video of each graduate while students and families viewed from safety of their cars. Larger districts may have to spread the event over two nights, Caro said.

The drive-in theater option would also present districts with transportation challenges, sending families out of district for the event, and the events would likely have to start after 9 p.m. But with good options few and far between, it may be what some districts are looking for, Caro said.

“With social distancing it's probably about as good as you can get in terms of a social gather you can do,” Caro said of the idea.

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