Families no longer allowed on field at Northeastern High graduation event

The 2018 Northeastern High School Commencement Ceremony at the school in Manchester Township, Thursday, May 31, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Northeastern High School families will no longer be able to stand on the football field and watch their seniors receive diplomas in a May 29 graduation event.

“I don’t even think I’ll actually be able to see him on stage,” said Kiki Bream, noting that her son Griffin is her last child to graduate, and it’s an important moment.

In an email sent to parents Thursday night, high school Principal Matthew Gay detailed the first of three elements officials had planned for graduation: the diploma pickup.

The other two are a virtual commencement and, sometime before May 2021, a gathering with friends and family if COVID-19 restrictions at the time allow.

The original plans for receiving diplomas noted that seniors would be able to report to the football field, have a photo taken with Superintendent Stacey Sidle and enter the stadium to stand on stage and see their names displayed on the scoreboard one at a time, while families watched from the field.

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“Unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate families’ being on the field for any part of the ceremony as we had originally thought,” Gay said in the email.

He went on to explain that it would take too much time to usher families from their vehicles, move them to the stadium and then back to their vehicles before dark.

Bream and Bambi Kennedy said they were upset because it was not because of COVID-19 restrictions that the changes were made, but because of the district’s own restriction with timing.

York County entered the yellow phase as of Friday, meaning students would be permitted to gather with their families, provided there are no groups of more than 25 present.

“We are always #BobcatProud but this and the way it was presented was a slap to our face,” Kennedy said in a message.

When reached Friday evening, Gay said though they had planned for it, school officials realized it might not be feasible in one day, and local police told them the same. Rushing families through the process would be unfair, and they would most likely fall behind.

One week out from the date was too soon to change plans to a multi-day event, he said.

Some families had taken off work for the occasion, and the 60 to 70 volunteers planning to help would also not be available over multiple days, Gay said.

"We wanted to honor that," he said. "It really was a pretty agonizing decision."

Other comments from Northeastern parents on Facebook showed mixed reactions.

“I am super disappointed,” said Lillian Halvorsen. “We have been rolling with it all, but this was kind of the last straw for me.”

Some did not blame the district for the change and commended officials for adapting to the circumstances and providing what they could.

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“These kids are rolling with the punches. We have no other choice,” said Danielle Kauffman.

Though it’s not what they envisioned as parents, Sherri Graham said, she acknowledged the administration has worked many hours to put something special together.

The diploma event will include turning a tassel on a mortar board and receiving a white rose, the class flower, in addition to photos with the superintendent and in the stadium.

“They have watched our children grow and their hearts are broken over this as well,” she said of administrators, adding that she does not wish to complain and bring negativity to the day.