Tracy McGuinness’ son is graduating from Samuel Robertson Technical this year.
But, there will be no formal in-person commencement ceremony for the grads at his school, or at any school in the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows school district, until COVID-19 gathering restrictions of 50 people or less are lifted.
So, this year’s class of 2020 will be celebrating its achievements virtually.
McGuinness is more than disappointed.
She is mad. Especially since schools in other districts are putting on ceremonies where their students will get to walk across a stage in a cap and gown and receive their diploma.
On June 17 at Terry Fox Secondary in Coquitlam, grads will be assigned a time to go to the school for a drive-up commencement ceremony. Small groups will be allowed into the parking lot in 30-minute increments, where they will line up before pulling up to a designated spot by a platform. Then, each student – in their cap and gown – will get to leave their car and walk a red carpet to a stage by the statue of Terry Fox where they will receive their diploma and have their photo taken by a professional photographer.
In Surrey at Clayton Heights Secondary, graduates have also been split into 30 minute time slots for their ceremony on June 10. Students will be marshalled by staff to the second floor of the school where they will be arranged alphabetically. Parents and family are to remain in their cars.
The grads will then be taken to the theatre where they will enter through the back doors. They will pick up a folder with their diploma to cross the stage with as a staff member reads their commencement comment.
Once across, they will exit through the main doors of the theatre where a photographer will be set up to take photographs of each student – in their cap and gown with their diploma. Finally, each grad will leave through the front doors of the school and walk a red carpet back to the parking lot.
At SRT they are being asked to send a picture or video clip of themselves dancing with their parents, a picture or video of something they did during the pandemic, and a picture of themselves in their cap and gown, which they are still being permitted to pick up and keep for about a week.
“I believe they are just putting it together in some type of video, and that’s what they are doing,” McGuinness said.
She wants to know why schools in other districts are able to hold some kind of commencement ceremony for their grads while SD42 can’t.
“There’s over 30 desks set out in the SRT gym for students coming back,” she noted after counting the desks in a photograph posted online about the school’s return-to-class plan for June 1.
“Yet, we can’t have a controlled graduation ceremony where there’s even 10 kids at a time?” queried McGuinness.
An online petition started by Devon Olson, whose daughter will be graduating from Westview Secondary this year, already has 2,034 signatures asking the school district to give SD42 grads a “proper graduation.”
In the petition, Olson suggests the district could hold ceremonies outdoors where grads could be put into two groups, to abide by the current gathering restrictions, and chairs could be spaced two metres apart. Then each grad could be called to a stage one by one and have their picture taken in their cap and gown.
Parents, Olson said, could wait in their cars.
“There’s so many options,” she said.
“They’re teenagers. They’re not little kids that are going to go running around screaming with all their germs,” added Olson.
And, she said, they are all handling the stress of dealing with COVID-19 restrictions differently.
“So give them something to look forward to.”
However, a decision was made by SD42 superintendent Sylvia Russell – after a discussion with secondary principals across the district.
“Schools will look for ceremony dates in the next school year that fall close to holidays when students who are away for studies or work are more likely to be home with their friends and families,” said Irena Pochop, a SD42 spokesperson.
A letter was sent out to graduating class families on Wednesday to notify them of the decision.
The district, said Pochop, has received messages from parents and students on both sides of the divide.
Some feel that in-person ceremonies can still be held, either in open fields with physical distancing measures in place or in school gyms in groups of 50 or less.
Others have voiced their concern of holding any in-person ceremony at this time because it would send the wrong message to the youth of the community and potentially undermine the sacrifices the community has made to flatten the curve.
“We hear the concerns on both sides,” said Pochop.
Any in-person ceremony, right now, she said, would involve a level of risk for students, staff, and families. And, Pochop added, students who are immuno-compromised would not be able to participate.
Virtual ceremonies and other recognition events will be proceeding as planned, Pochop noted.
This year, local secondary schools have been working with grad committees to make preparations for a virtual ceremony that will be posted to the school district Helix video server.
In a letter from Russell on May 7, she said that each school would provide graduates with details on what their individual ceremony is going to look like.
Russell asked families not to let current challenging circumstances “eclipse your child’s amazing achievement. Their graduating class will be remembered as one that met the challenges of a pandemic that tested not only our country but also the world.”
These students will be remembered, according to Russell, “for their tenaciousness and perseverance in the face of a truly unique challenge.”
The district will also be celebrating the 2020 grads during the week of June 15 on the district’s website and through their social media channels. Those details will be shared with schools early next week.
In addition, the school district has reached out to both the City of Maple Ridge and the City of Pitt Meadows to see if are other ways of celebrating the grads.
“We look forward to celebrating the achievements of our 2020 grads in-person during safer times,” Pochop concluded.