Important Clarification of Graduation Events

To the Class of 2020 and their Families,

I would like to start by congratulating you.  This year has been unlike any other.  You have worked hard, weathered a pandemic, and are now ready to celebrate a milestone.  Prepared as you are, a significant health risk that is not well understood and our obligation to the law prevent all of us from celebrating as we had planned. In spite of our challenges, we found creative, non-traditional ways to celebrate.  Thank you for the positive response and feedback to the Bridgewater-Raritan United Apart Graduation Week Bus Runs.  Our staff enjoyed celebrating that time with you just as much as you enjoyed celebrating it with your family and friends.  We remain excited for the Virtual Senior Awards and Commencement which will be celebrated Tuesday.  To cap off the celebration, we’ve asked the entire B-R community to come out of their homes and raise their voices to applaud you.  

We also continue to plan possible ways we can support an in-person ceremony in July in line with the parameters set forth by the Governor and the New Jersey State Police Colonel. Last week, Principal Ezell and some of his team visited with administrators at TD Bank Ballpark to discuss that venue as a safe place to hold such an event. We are close to being able to announce specifics.

However, it was brought to our attention today that there is misinformation circulating through social media. This misinformation is not only generally misleading, but it poses a threat to your health and our values. Posts indicate that students and their families are going to gather on school district property to protest not being able to hold a normal graduation ceremony.  These posts refer to both middle and high school. The posts state that the police are aware, making it seem as if they condone this activity. This is not accurate.

This district does not condone what has been published and we have not approved any such activity. I have been in touch with the Bridgewater Chief of Police and the mayors of both Bridgewater and Raritan. They do not endorse or condone these actions.  All school facilities are currently closed due to the pandemic and any unauthorized use of our facilities is, at a minimum, trespassing. For a full understanding of the situation, please read on.

Peaceful, meaningful protest is a fundamental part of our country. We raise our collective voices to combat injustice, to support those in need, and to help our communities improve. While there has been a request for a protest made to the Bridgewater Police, it is wrong to suggest on social media that the police, the township, or the district approve of it. 

Peaceful protests are planned to be safe and to make a clear statement. There are many forms of protest and successful protestors match their method with their goal. At this time, any unnecessary gathering of people poses a significant risk. They should only be undertaken for the most important reasons and, due to current health concerns, only after other methods of protest have been exhausted.

Peaceful, meaningful protests are carried out in public spaces or with the permission of the property owner. School property is private property and the school district does not approve the use of our facilities for this type of event at this time. Any such use of school property would be, at a minimum, trespassing. This is not because the district does not support our graduates. It is because, at this time, regardless of what others choose to do, gatherings on this scale are simply not safe. The district cannot assume the liability for an event that puts our students, and the larger community, at further risk. The district cannot also ignore that at this time it is not legal under the governor’s executive order.

This is a confusing time as people across the country are gathering, even in these unsafe conditions. They are gathering to protest an unshakeable issue that has plagued our country since its founding. They are gathering to protest an undeniable reality that people are forced to live in fear. They are gathering to protest an unacceptable fact that too many people have needlessly died. And they are gathering because they have tried, faithfully, many other forms of protest without success.

In choosing our form of protest, we must ask why, in the face of a global pandemic with hundreds of thousands of people having died already (almost 13,000 in New Jersey alone); with numbers rising in other states that have not taken the safety precautions we have here; with the entire medical community sharing the risks of our situation; and with the BRHS administration and staff offering an in-person ceremony for every graduate, a virtual ceremony, a community-wide sendoff, and developing plans for a safe, legal program in July, why would we consider putting our students, ourselves, our families, and our larger community at risk? The school district will not put anything over the safety of our students and our community.

I wonder what types of protest we have supported our students in leveraging to make their voices heard. I wonder if we have helped them to align their chosen form of protest with their goal and with the larger context. I hope we are teaching them the value of protest in our country. I hope that we are not using the cover of protest to mask a celebration.

As the conversation on social media has continued, I am aware that many students and family members are working to correct the misinformation that has been presented. I applaud this responsible use of social media. I know how many appreciate what the BRHS team has done and continues to do. You have told us so through your emails and your survey responses. I hope that we all continue to work together to celebrate the Class of 2020 and to make this district a safe, supportive community for everyone.

I am asking both students and their families to demonstrate the learning that has taken place over the past thirteen years, both in our classrooms and in our community. I am asking everyone to embody the maturity and resolve we value in B-R. 

Once again, I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate you, our graduates, for your hard work.  Your effort, energy, and dedication to school are recognized and appreciated.  I hope you have a wonderful graduation celebration at home with your family and loved ones.  Remember to go outside at 8:20 p.m. to join your neighbors and friends in the community-wide applause for you.

Congratulations BRHS Class of 2020!

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