The Mechanicville City School District is planning to host a student-only graduation ceremony July 10, scrapping an earlier plan that would have allowed parents and guests in excess of state-mandated attendance limits for graduation events.
School district Superintendent Bruce Potter in a Thursday interview said the district had originally hoped it would be able to proceed with a ceremony that included guests if it pushed the ceremony into July and the Capital Region entered Phase 4 of reopening. But the district changed its plans this week, barring guests from attending the ceremony in person, after receiving clarification from the state Education Department that graduations had to comply with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's mandate that commencement ceremonies be limited to no more than 150 attendees, Potter said.
"We were in no way attempting to try and deliberately violate New York state." Potter said. "We made a decision to push into the summer in hopes Phase 4 would provide better outcomes for these activities. Nothing has changed so we are going with the 150 [attendance limit]."
Potter said the district had started to plan for a July ceremony before Cuomo on June 7 announced he would allow outdoor graduation ceremonies of no more than 150 participants, including students, families and district staff. But Mechanicville held out hope things would change by the time its July 10 ceremony rolled around -- even as other districts in the region moved forward under the governor's limits.
The district’s initial plans to celebrate the success of newly-minted graduates would have run afoul of state attendance limits. The district originally planned to allow its over 100 graduates to each invite four guests to the July 10 ceremony. The district laid out plans to set aside specific areas for each family to sit in during the event and noted in communications that masks would be required and asked guests to abide by social distancing rules. The district posted those plans, along with other end-of-year celebrations, in early-June, prior to Cuomo's announcement of the attendance rules.
"We knew there was a chance we would have to alter plans and we have," Potter said, noting the district discussed its plans with school attorneys.
The district announced its new plans Wednesday night in a letter sent to the district community outlining a new schedule of activities, including a July 10 graduate-only commencement ceremony barring parents and guests from attending. The letter noted an instance downstate where officials think a visitor to a drive-in graduation event may have caused a cluster of COVID-19 infections and quoted recent state Education Department guidance that graduation ceremonies should comply with attendance limits.
The district’s new plans will be to host graduates only on July 10 for a ceremony that will be live-streamed. The following day, graduates will be scheduled throughout the day to receive diplomas with their parents present, similar to what many other districts have done in recent weeks.