District awaits governor’s office decision regarding graduation

Superintendent+Erik+Gundersen+addressed+graduation+concerns+during+the+Board+of+Education+meeting+held+Monday+night+on+Zoom.+A+graduation+is+still+scheduled+for+the+Class+of+2020+on+June+16.+

Ilmie Xhaferi

Superintendent Erik Gundersen addressed graduation concerns during the Board of Education meeting held Monday night on Zoom. A graduation is still scheduled for the Class of 2020 on June 16.

Ilmie Xhaferi, Staff Editor

(Updated 5/6/20, 8:41 p.m. with topics of human resources approved by the Board of Education.)

District Superintendent Erik Gundersen said that graduation will still take place on June 16 during the Board of Education’s virtual meeting Monday night held on Zoom. 

“We have a lot of work to do to finalize plans for graduation,” Gundersen said. “I’ve received dozens of emails from parents, students, and staff members with really unique ideas of how to conduct graduation, but it all hinges on guidance that we get from [the governor’s office].”

Although New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year due to the pandemic on Monday, Gundersen said administrators and him are still unsure if the graduation ceremony will be held virtually or in-person with accommodations for social distancing. 

“Right now after June 16, [the Class of 2020] is no longer ours so we can’t hold graduation,” Gundersen said. “Perhaps there is a way to push [the graduation] out — that’s why we’re looking for some sort of guidance from the state.”

River Vale resident Ehren Dimitry and Hillsdale resident Rashella Roznitsky during comments from the public suggested that the district should look into outside venues to host the graduation ceremony. 

“It would be great to have something as close as possible to what a regular graduation would be like,” Roznitsky said. “I know that the kids would love to have it at the school, but secondary to that, I think that they would enjoy having it anywhere rather than having it virtually.”

Gundersen said there are “not necessarily” limitations as to where the district can conduct graduation. However, he said that conducting an offsite graduation will be “breaking the spirit” of the precautions that Murphy has set. 

“Just because the governor said that schools are closed, that doesn’t pertain simply to our property,” Gundersen said. “I think we would find ourselves in some significant hot water if we went ahead and conducted graduation at an offsite location.”

Other possibilities of a graduation addressed by Gundersen include a staggered graduation where a third of the class graduates at a time.

“I love the fact that some suggestions are coming out,” River Vale resident Heather Manspeizer said. “I believe that whatever you do is going to be the best of what you all can do. From a parent’s point of view, it’s the unknown that’s scary.”

Gundersen said that pushing off graduation to the summer is a possibility he is pursuing with the county to see if it is permissible. 

“I completely understand the frustration that parents and students have with no official word coming from the district about how graduation will look like,” Gundersen said. “We’re holding onto hope that we can hold some sort of traditional graduation ceremony and we’re waiting on that guidance.”

Gundersen said he and Pascack Valley Interim Principal John Puccio have “something in the works” to publicly recognize seniors. Caps and gowns will still arrive on schedule and yearbooks will still be issued to seniors. There will also be a virtual senior awards ceremony.

“We have some time to figure out exactly how we can make graduation and some other year-end activities as special as possible so our students in the Class of 2020 are not forgotten and they are recognized for their fantastic achievements for graduating high school,” Gundersen said.

During the meeting, current PV Interim Assistant Principal Christine Pollinger was also approved to be assistant principal for the 2020-2021 school year. Pascack Hills math teacher Charleen Schwartzman was also approved as the PH assistant principal for the next school year and Megan Pettigano as district library media specialist following the retirement of Margaret White.