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State Expands Capacity for School Graduations

Tue, 04/13/2021 - 10:51
East Hampton High School's graduates celebrating at 2016 commencement ceremonies
Christine Sampson

This year, high school seniors can expect graduation ceremonies that inch closer to the traditional norms of past years, thanks to new guidelines announced by New York's governor on Monday which expand capacity over 2020's limitations.

Graduation ceremonies on the South Fork varied widely under pandemic restrictions last year, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo allowed up to 150 people at in-person celebrations held outdoors. Bridgehampton High School's seniors holed up under tents in "pods" with their families on a rainy day, as friends and faculty members watched from the sidewalk. East Hampton High School held a drive-through ceremony in the high school parking lot under the blazing sun and Sag Harbor's graduates were spaced out six feet apart in chairs on the hill in front of Pierson High School with families watching from their cars as rain blew through.

All celebrations this graduation season will be tied to the capacity of their venues. Small, outdoor ceremonies of up to 200 people, or two attendees per student, can be held at venues where that represents up to 50 percent capacity. For that format, proof of recent negative Covid-19 tests or completed immunization records is optional. 

Medium-sized outdoor ceremonies can take place at venues with a limit of 33 percent capacity, allowing 201 to 500 people to attend. Large-scale ceremonies at venues with a capacity of 2,500 or more -- which are scarce on the East End -- can accommodate more than 500 people. Gatherings at these two levels require guests to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test or a completed immunization record.

Indoor graduations, which were generally not permitted in 2020, have more restrictions. Venues that usually accommodate 1,500 or more are limited to 10-percent capacity. Gatherings of between 101 and 150 people can be held at venues where that number represents no more than a third of the capacity. Ceremonies attended by up to 100 people, or two guests per student, can be held at venues where that number represents 50 percent of capacity. Negative tests or immunization records can be optional only at the the small gatherings.

According to Governor Cuomo's press release, "These requirements are consistent with the state's guidance for other congregate commercial and social activities, including catered receptions, performing arts, and sports competitions." Wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and collection of contact tracing information will be required.

"It is good to have some guidelines while there is time to plan," said East Hampton High School's principal, James Crenshaw. "We have strived at every step to do the best possible for our students within the safety protocols set before us," he said. "This will be no different. . . . We had a few ideas floating around, and this helped to narrow them."

While he declined to provide more specific information, he did say that "we will have a great graduation for our students and families in recognition of their achievements." 

Michael Miller, principal of the Bridgehampton School, said the district's reopening committee would evaluate Governor Cuomo's new guidelines. "I am extremely optimistic that we will be able to celebrate all of our students' successes along with their families," he said by email on Tuesday.

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