A group protest by Bloomfield High School students and parents at Tuesday night’s BOE meeting prompted Vice President Shane Berger to remark, “We were ambushed.”
The coordinated effort was a result of an announcement earlier that day by high school Vice Principal Thomas Acton, who told the seniors their graduation ceremony would not take place on Foley Field as expected. Instead, it would be held in the gym.
“The Vice Principal brought the senior class into the auditorium and said, ‘it’s not going to happen. Prepare yourself mentally’,” recalled BHS senior Kristi Sandora. “Everyone went nuts!”
A barrage of outraged tweets and Facebook postings followed Acton's announcement, with students vowing to fight the decision. Accordingly, many showed up at the BOE meeting to voice their views.
Joshua John, seated on the stage in his capacity as BOE student representative, opened the discussion.
“We’re disappointed and want to raise this issue to the board,” he said. “What exactly is preventing us from graduating at Foley Field?”
School Board Administrator Michael Derderian responded.
“First, where would the graduating class sit? You can’t put chairs on artificial turf,” he said. “Second, it was made clear through Mr. Jennings that it would be held in the school as it has the past three years. There’s no changing it now.”
But if Derderian thought that was the end of the matter, he was mistaken. One by one the students, who had no intention of leaving until their voices were heard, approached the podium.
“Why were we told when we were voting for Foley Field that we’d be able to use it for graduation, when all along they knew we wouldn’t be able to use it?” demanded senior Alexis Celluro.
Celluro’s father reiterated her position, saying taxpayers who supported the costly renovation of Foley Field were promised their children would have their high school graduations there.
“Graduating in the gym can’t make me proud,” declared another student. “Don’t take that away from me.”
Some students and parents said the issue was the limited number of tickets that would be made available to families if the ceremony was held in the gym. Each student would recive two tickets in that instance, while a ceremony at the expansive Foley Field would not have the same space -- or ticket number -- limitations.
“Everyone has more than two family members who want to see them graduate,” pointed out one resident and several others echoed her views.
“I don’t think it’s fair that we only get two tickets. My grandmother would love to see me graduate,” said student Denise Predy. “And I know people who have already bought their plane tickets.”
For others, the issue was about aesthetics, and the anticipated emotions of the day.
“We saw Foley Field destroyed and now it’s so beautiful, so magnificent,” stated one girl. “And so is graduation. Two beautiful things like that belong together.”
In response to the thirty or so speakers who addressed the board, School Superintendent Jason Bing said he would reassess the situation and speak to other school districts that had dealt with similar circumstances.
“I want to thank you for advocating your position,” he said to the speakers. “I can promise you that we’re going to take into consideration everything you said and discuss it.”
BOE President Mary Shaughnessy agreed. “Seeing the passion here, I’m inclined to see what we can do,” she assured them.
After the public portion of the meeting, the students expressed cautious optimism that their words would favorably impact the final decision of the board.
“I really hope they take what we said into consideration,” said Sandora. “At first they were shutting us down.”
“I think we have a good chance,” said Chris Fioriello. “At school they’re like, ‘oh, you’re just students, you don’t know what you’re talking about’. But I want to graduate from BHS like my parents did in the ‘50s.”
Sandora said the students would send around a petition if necessary.
“Our voice needs to be heard. When you picture yourself graduating you don’t picture yourself in a crowded smelly gym.”