PAINTED POST | Corning-Painted Post School District officials have been working for months on multiple contingency plans for holding some kind of graduation ceremony for seniors, despite the disruption of COVID-19 that closed schools for much of their final semester.
But state guidance released to school officials Thursday seems to reject many of those options, leaving the district to find a plan that’s acceptable under public health restrictions, while continuing to seek relief from the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“If I had to summarize the feeling in the team that has been doing the planning, it's disappointment and surprise,” Superintendent Mike Ginalski, in his final days with the district before retirement, told The Leader.
“From the start, it has been our desire to hold an in-person graduation for these seniors,” Ginalski said. “They have lost so much, and we were hopeful that things would open up a bit and the governor would allow a ceremony -- albeit with restrictions -- but would still be a face-to-face ceremony.”
The information presented to districts around the state Thursday reiterates the restriction of public gatherings to no more than 10 people -- it makes no exception for graduation ceremonies, regardless of the safeguards put in place.
“After receiving this memo today, we need time to regroup,” Ginalski said. “It's clear the memo references June graduation ceremonies, but we have to discuss our options internally before putting forth a final plan.”
The district had considered multiple plans they hoped would meet state standards as other restrictions have been relaxed and the weather has warmed.
“We planned anywhere from 2-5 separate ceremonies on the turf (in Memorial Stadium], with parents seated with their child on the turf -- with all safety protocols applied,” Ginalski said. “Our target date was the existing June 26 date or ... Saturday, June 27.”
Of course, district leaders were aware that may not be possible, and have other contingencies in place.
“Simultaneous to that, we have been planning a virtual graduation in an effort to provide the kids with the best possible virtual graduation in the event that's all we would be allowed to do,” Ginalski said. “This week, the high school administrators have set up the gymnasium graduation-style so that the students have that official walk-up-to-the stage opportunity where (High School Principal Robin) Sheehan hands them their diploma and afterward, pictures are taken on the stage with the graduate and their parents to be incorporated into the virtual ceremony.”
He noted planning since April has been led by a team including Sheehan, incoming Superintendent Michelle Caulfield, Public Information Coordinator Bill Cameron and Assistant Superintendent for School Operations Bill Pierce.
Ginalski said the group will continue to look at their options -- but time is limited.
“I asked the group to process the decision made today and that we'd talk in the next few days,” he said. “I mean the reality is, we cannot have a graduation ceremony Labor Day weekend next (school) year. Eventually, we just need to make the decision to go virtual completely or not.”
Ginalski said the situation has been particularly difficult for Sheehan.
“Her energy in being determined to give these kids something back drove us to a very creative place,” he said. “Those kids need to know that she misses the end-of-year stuff every bit as much as they do, and her heart breaks for them. This is exactly what any superintendent wants from their high school principal in a situation like this. Robin is and has been a star throughout these last four months.”