State puts end to two, and possibly three, of graduation options

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A state-driven narrowing of options for Rome Free Academy’s graduation ceremony, adjusting the end of the academic year, and a one-day drop-box for June 9 school district election ballots are results relating to COVID-19 as presented to the Board of Education.

The topics were discussed by district Superintendent Peter C. Blake during the board’s meeting Wednesday night which was held on a remote virtual basis.

• Two RFA graduation options being considered for June 27 at RFA Stadium — a typical full ceremony if social distancing restrictions are lifted, or a student-only event with socially distanced seating — have been “removed from the table” by the governor’s office, said Blake.

The “word from Albany” is there cannot be “any form of in-person graduation, period,” Blake remarked. He said somebody had filed a complaint that the district was looking into those options. The district will not be allowed to have any ceremony involving students or adults in any gathering have more than 10, he added.

The last of the three options being considered involves a “drive-through” graduation for students and families in which they would drive into the stadium for diplomas to be presented and then leave.

However, “the issue that we now face is that Albany is considering not allowing caravan graduations either,” which would “take our third option and kind of throw it out the window,” observed Blake; he noted the state uses the “caravan” term in referring to drive-through ceremonies.

But Blake also expressed hope that with the support of Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo with whom he has been discussing the graduation plans, the drive-through option can get approval. He added that as of now, “option three is the way we’re going,” pending more information “in the coming days and weeks.” It will “depend on how things are dictated to us...by Albany,” he remarked.

• June 17 will now be “the official end of the academic year” for the Rome district and the “last day for student instruction” for the 2019-20 school year, said Blake. The last day of school including the end of the marking period for secondary-grade levels previously was scheduled for June 25 according to the district calendar.

Several school districts statewide have been adjusting the year-end date, because they previously had been directed by Cuomo’s office to continue remote instruction instead of going on the annual spring recess last month. School buildings closed in mid-March, and will remain closed for the rest of the school year. Several online reports have said the statewide year-end adjustments are geared to avoid paying teachers for more days than called for in contracts.

Blake referred to using a state Education Department calculator/spread-sheet feature to “punch in” data to reach the specified 180 student-days of school while also factoring in superintendent conference days and “snow” days for emergency closures.

• For the June 9 election, which will use absentee ballots mailed to registered district voters along with stamped return envelopes for mailing back, a drop-box will be at the district office that day for people unable to put their completed ballots in the mail in time, said Blake.

The ballot package to go to voters should be in the mail to them by May 26 and should arrive at residences by May 27 or 28, Blake noted. People should try to put their completed ballots back in the mail by no later than June 7 for them to reach the district office by June 9, he said; the district must receive ballots before 5 p.m. that day, he added.

The drop-box on June 9 will be outside the district office as of the opening of business that day at 8 a.m. for people to drop off ballots if they need to, Blake said.

On the ballot will be voting on the school district’s 2020-21 budget; the election of three Board of Education members; creation of a seat for a student to participate on the board; and the sale of the former Fort Stanwix Elementary School building at 110 W. Linden St.

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