Districts plan to improvise graduation celebrations for class of 2020

Since the graduating class of 2020 began its time in high school, California has been plagued by wildfires, and the smoke and recent power shut-offs that came along with those natural disasters. Some students have lost their homes or dealt with other losses as a result, and nearly all have at one point had to adapt to school closures caused by dangerous conditions.

Now, with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond’s announcement that schools in California will likely remain closed for the remainder of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, district leaders are working to ensure this year’s graduating class is still able to participate in the rites of passage many students have long been looking forward to.

Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Diann Kitamura wrote in an April 3 letter to the district’s senior class that the district would be crowdsourcing ideas on how to handle events like prom and high school graduation ceremonies.

“The loss of the end of your senior year, the loss of time with teachers and friends, and the loss of your well-deserved celebrations truly break my heart. I want you to know that I continually think about your loss and appreciate your sacrifice as we move forward with the rest of the school year,” Kitamura wrote. “I am determined to work together with you to celebrate your accomplishments. Send me your ideas about graduation, prom and other senior activities in the environment of COVID-19.”

Patterson Joint Unified School District announced it would be posting senior portraits six feet apart around the perimeter of its high schools beginning May 5 as part of its plan to celebrate the class of 2020.

Officials in Gilroy Unified School District announced that, while details remain sparse and many aspects of the typical end-of-year celebrations will not be happening, the district is still committed to holding a graduation ceremony at some point.

“I have been thinking about all of our students a lot this week, but especially our graduating seniors.  This is certainly not the end of their time with us in GUSD that we expected or wanted for them,” Gilroy USD Superintendent Deborah Flores wrote in an April 3 letter to staff and families. “I am hopeful, Class of 2020, that we will be able to salvage a portion of the senior year experience for you. I’m sorry you won’t celebrate this rite of passage in its entirety with your senior prom, senior trip, senior awards and other components of your final semester in the Gilroy Unified School District.”

A graduation ceremony “is still in the brainstorming and planning stages,” Flores said.

Some schools have suggested simply pushing back graduation ceremonies and hosting senior proms once health officials declare that it is once again safe to hold large gatherings and social distancing is no longer required to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Oxnard High School Principal Richard Urias reportedly told seniors enrolled at his Oxnard Union High School District campus that a graduation ceremony could be held in July, with prom held the night before in the school’s quad.

Other leaders, including Conejo Valley USD Superintendent Mark McLaughlin, have made online submission forms available to students so they can easily share their graduation celebration ideas.

Do you have innovative ideas happening at your district? Email editor@csba.org to share with CSBA and other districts.