PERTH AMBOY — Parents who object to the time change for the school district’s middle school and high school graduation ceremonies will get a hearing before the State Commissioner of Education in Newark at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon.
The controversy arose when Dr. Janine Caffrey changed the time-honored tradition of holding the high school graduation ceremony at 6 p.m. in the evening, scheduling it at 9 a.m. instead. Caffrey cited health concerns because of heat later in the day as the reason for changing the tradition of almost 40 years.
As a result of the rescheduling, the middle school graduation ceremony time also had to be changed. In the past, both ceremonies were held on the same day, with the middle school one occurring prior to the high school commencement. This year, the middle school ceremony is being held the day before the high school’s.
Some parents say the change in graduation schedule and time has caused a hardship for individuals who are not able to take a day off of work or who can not take two days off of work. “I have two graduations to attend, and I can only lose one day of work, [and] I am barely making ends meet, and surviving paycheck to paycheck” Elizabeth Morabito-Gonzalez said. “Being that the high school graduation time was held at 6 p.m. for so many years, I made the plans with my company around that time, and now may not be able to see one of my daughters graduate from middle school,” she said.
Concerned parents and students voiced their concerns publicly at the Board of Education meetings on May 23 and June 17, presenting them with findings of a survey and petition collected on June 1. The results of these findings were emailed to Caffrey on June 7, however, despite the survey and petition efforts, the issue was not placed on the June 20 agenda.
“I’m saddened that due to the time change, my own family can’t see my daughter graduate from high school,” Vanessa Fernandez said, “Considering this is a milestone event, and she is the oldest grandchild, and the first to graduate high school,” she said. “We did the superintendent’s job, and gathered a survey, that should’ve been done at the beginning of the school year so that the parents and families could have planned accordingly,” Fernandez said. “In our survey, over 90% of the participants believe the new time of 9 a.m. is an inconvenience, and favored a 6 p.m. time.”
The petition filed before the the New Jersey Commissioner of Education alleges policy violations, and asks the Commissioner to intervene on the parents and pupils behalf. “We brought up this graduation issue numerous times to both the board of education members and to Dr. Caffery but our voice fell on deaf ears,” Anthony Bermudez said. “Dr. Caffrey never contacted the families to discuss the issue of changing the graduation time, and how it would impact families and students. She made the decision on her own to change the graduation time, which is why we had to take this matter to the next level.”
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