Despite receiving a letter signed by more than 100 New Paltz High School graduating seniors asking to hold their commencement ceremony on the football field, as has been the tradition over the years, school officials have denied the students’ petition and will hold graduation in the SUNY New Paltz gymnasium on Wednesday, June 26.
Several weeks ago, at their regular meeting on May 22, the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education heard from the 2019 senior class president, Evan Holland-Shepler, who read from the letter signed by 100+members of the graduating class. Speaking on their behalf, he urged the BOE to reconsider the plan to hold graduation in the SUNY New Paltz gym, noting that the students wanted to graduate “on our turf.”
Earlier in the year, he told the board, he and other class officers were told they could choose where graduation would be held. “We requested the football field, but were denied by Ms. Rice [Superintendent of Schools Maria Rice] on the premise that the SUNY gym is already printed on the school calendar.”
Having received no resolution either way after the May 22 board meeting, Holland-Shepler attended the June 5 BOE meeting to again ask for a change of graduation location. “For one last time, please, I ask the board to respect the wishes of our graduating class, and move our graduation to our high school football field.”
Superintendent Rice responded to the students the next day by email, denying their request based on “the logistics necessary to make the change at this late date.”
When asked for comment, Holland-Shepler said, “The board and superintendent showed no desire to set up any lines of communications with students, deciding instead to email an unexplained denial, citing ‘logistics’ instead of saying anything specific.”
“I have learned much in my 12 years in this district,” he added, “but over the past few weeks, while advocating for students, I learned something else. There are severe lapses in communication and coordination between the board and administration and students in the district. Ms. Rice, in particular, has shown no interest in communicating with students, teachers, and members of the community. Students and teachers feel sidelined and alienated from a hostile administration, and our graduation is just one small symptom of this problem. It is ample time for Ms. Rice to retire for real, now. I hope that distressed students, teachers and members of this community join this call to set our district back on a student-focused path.”