By Shawn R. Beals
ENFIELD The board of education will appeal a federal judge's ruling to bar graduations from being held at First Cathedral in Bloomfield this year, but is not seeking to move the ceremonies away from each high school.
The board Tuesday night changed last week's decision not to appeal.
Board member Donna Szewczak said she voted Tuesday night to approve the appeal after voting against it last week because "we needed to take a strong stance" and strengthen the district's defense against a May lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Chairman Gregory Stokes said planning for this year's ceremonies at each high school is underway, but the board in the meantime will file an expedited appeal with the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
"Our staff and administration is working overtime preparing for graduations at home," Stokes said.
He said he is still supporting the use of First Cathedral as a graduation site because of "overwhelming outcry" from the community against having graduations at each school.
"We listened to what the folks wanted us to do in this community," he said.
The board's lawyer, Vincent McCarthy of the American Center for Law and Justice, said the appeal will contest Judge Janet Hall's ruling that the board is endorsing religion by using a church for the graduations.
Board members Judith Apruzzese-Desroches, Stacy Thurston, Vincent Grady and Joyce Hall voted against filing an appeal.
"In my heart this is wrong on so many different avenues," Apruzzese-Desroches said. "We are the board of education, we should be focusing on the delivery of education. We're walking into something and I don't think people realize how big it really is and how long it's going to last."
ACLU staff attorney David McGuire said the appeal "creates an unnecessary cloud over graduation and creates a divisive atmosphere."
The ACLU and Americans United say holding graduations at the church forces religion on students and parents.