Around 17,000 fans gathered inside the Barclay's Center to cheer on the Nets this week. But at Tottenville High School, no more than 500 people will be able to celebrate graduation on the school’s outdoor football field.
That doesn’t make much sense to student body president — and soon to be graduate — Robert Malyar.
“They're packed elbow to elbow inside their stadium indoors. It's ridiculous. I mean, why should there be a separate law that specifically singles out high school seniors and their parents? That makes no sense,” he said.
State COVID guidance says that no more than 500 people — including students, their family members and teachers — can attend a graduation held on a football field. Tottenville has more than 900 graduating seniors alone.
The school was initially planning to split up its commencement into three ceremonies, but has since been told it will need to hold six, over two days.
“Kids were so disappointed,” Robert said. “My friends are telling me that they don’t even want to go to a graduation that’s split into six different ceremonies, because it's just, I mean, what's the point?”
It's yet another frustrating moment for seniors like Malyar, who hasn’t attended an in-person class at Tottenville in more than a year.
“This is how I take attendance, by typing yes to this question,” he said, gesturing to his computer screen.
He’s opted to stay home because, at large public high schools like Tottenville, in-person instruction has been essentially non-existent.
“What you're basically doing was sitting on a computer in a room, with six other kids who we weren't allowed to talk to you, just with our headphones on, listening to your Zoom classes. There were no teachers,” he said.
He said staff at his school are working hard to give students the best graduation possible, but they're stymied by rules, even as people pack into other venues.
“That makes us students feel disappointed, frustrated and unmotivated because we see that over the last few months as the city has been reopening, more and more people have been allowed at restaurants, bars, catering halls,” he said.
Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter said the DOE is doing its best to give students a chance to celebrate.
“Last year, we didn’t even get the opportunity to have in-person graduations, and this year we do, and we’re willing to work with schools and communities just to make sure that can happen for every student,” Porter said.
A DOE spokesman emphasized their graduation rules were based on state guidance.
“We released graduation guidance in alignment with State rules so that plans could be made in advance, not be subject to the whims of changing rules, and be as inclusive of members of the community, regardless of vaccination status. We look forward to hosting all of the Class of 2021 as they celebrate their accomplishments and future,” spokesman Nathaniel Styer said.
Tottenville’s six graduation ceremonies are scheduled for June 24 and 25.
Just a few days before, the Foo Fighters will play to a full Madison Square Garden, with no state-imposed cap on capacity, on June 20.