Point Beach Schools look to end-of-year festivities

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POINT PLEASANT BEACH — Point Pleasant Beach School District officials are preparing for the end of one school year with in-person graduation ceremonies, while looking ahead to next year’s challenges.

Superintendent William Smith says the district is preparing to hold outdoor ceremonies for its graduating seniors and eighth-graders.

“We anticipate far more ‘traditional’ graduation ceremonies this year than last, with some of the adjustments to seating and field arrangement incorporated from our successful ceremonies last year,” said Mr. Smith. “Overall, prospects for a fairly ‘familiar’ graduation ceremony look good.”

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Last year, the district was forced to change its graduation, implementing strict social distancing rules and limiting attendees. The community finally arrived at the G. Harold Antrim Elementary School field to celebrate their graduates in July even with two rain delays that afternoon.

When Gov. Phil Murphy gave the OK for outdoor graduation ceremonies to start July 6 of last year, the district jumped on the opportunity to plan a way to hold the celebration, all while keeping their community safe from COVID-19.

At first, the celebration was set to have a 500-person capacity. According to the superintendent, after the rain delay, the crowd was closer to 300, including graduates.

This year, the district will continue some of its COVID-19 rules but isn’t fully sure what the final product will look like.

“At this point, the governor has indicated that his Executive Order 175 [school COVID-19 regulations] will be in place for another 30 days before it expires,” said the superintendent. “We have yet to get information about what, if anything, will replace that executive order or the other guidance we rely upon.”

The district is also reducing the attendees for its prom, limiting it to only seniors. The district will maintain some COVID rules for the prom as well.

“The prom is taking place in a few weeks, and students are looking forward to it,” said Mr. Smith.

As for next year’s in-person education, some new normals will be changing.

Following directives from the state and Gov. Murphy, students will no longer be able to opt for remote learning starting next September.

For Mr. Smith, this is the right move.

“I think educators throughout the state were encouraged by the governor’s announcement regarding virtual instruction for next year,” he said. “We know that the best place for students to receive their education, interact with their peers and teachers, and receive the wide range of intervention and support services is in the school building.”

“It has been a challenge for educators to operate dual classrooms in real time,” he said. “They have done an outstanding job, but it is very difficult.”

Mr. Smith said they still have a small number of students who are currently accessing their learning virtually, but as vaccines roll out, more and more have transitioned back to in-person learning.

As for students masking up during in-person instruction, the district says for now they are keeping their regulations.

“Anything regarding masking rules or regulations, at this point, would require me to speculate,” said Mr. Smith. “Changes in this space seem to be coming regularly now. I expect we will see some updates to the guidance for schools in preparation for our return to school in September.”

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