Graduation and Celebrations Update - May 15, 2020
Antioch School District 34 Families and Staff,
I hope this email finds you well and your family healthy.
First off, a reminder that Wednesday, May 20th is NOT a Remote Learning Planning Day. We have used all five days granted to us by the State.
In the past couple of days, our team at AUGS has begun the process of communicating the plans they have been working on for a virtual graduation ceremony. While we understand this is not the way anyone envisioned the celebration of this important milestone, please know that we are actively doing our best to consider all options and make the best decisions possible. You may not have an 8th grade student impacted by this decision, however, we believe this communication offers some insight into our end-of-year planning as it relates to a variety of traditional activities and celebrations. In the end, we are committed to honoring and recognizing our collective accomplishments, but want to make sure we are doing so in ways that are congruent with the guidance we have received and in coordination with other agencies and organizations, with whom we have been in close contact.
Please know that our conversations have included and revolved around multiple options and, in fact, they continue to do so. We have not settled on the virtual graduation easily, nor have we determined that it necessarily be the absolute end or extent of our programming. As a district, we have received and continue to receive various guidance that seems to fluctuate. Under normal circumstances, we would be surveying students and families and making sure that multiple perspectives were included in our decision-making. Due to the fluid nature of the recommendations, guidance, and mandates we are receiving, we have struggled with what options are viable from day-to-day, making it difficult to ask targeted questions and manage expectations. Please know that we are trying the best we can to be transparent and communicative.
Here is a brief summary of some of the recent guidance we have received:
- On April 29th, State Superintendent, Dr. Carmen Ayala, sent out a letter about the topic of graduations, and stated the following:
We have reached the page on our calendars where practically every square held some milestone - awards ceremonies, team banquets, parties, prom, and the biggest milestone of all: graduation. We need to remember that no matter how devasting it feels to miss sacred rites of spring, the health and safety of our students, families, and communities must remain our top priority.
Therefore, in-person graduation ceremonies of any kind are not allowed at this time. This directive extends to drive-through graduation ceremonies or events where students come in small groups to the school or another location for a photo or to walk across a stage. The Governor's extended stay-at-home order prohibits group gatherings. I join you in hoping that events can resume in person sooner rather than later, but that time is not now.
Initially, upon receipt of this communication and directive, we were confident in having been preparing for a virtual graduation ceremony. At the same time however, there was significant push back on behalf of districts that had other plans in the works. Subsequently, three days later, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health issued joint guidance regarding graduation ceremonies. Essentially, they put the decision back on the local districts to make in coordiantion with local agencies, organizations, and officials. In that communication however, they did include a salient line that we, internally, have grappled with:
- Virtual events are strongly encouraged, although we reconize this may not be possible in all situations.
Most recently, on May 8, 2020, a statement was issued by the DuPage County Regional Office of Education Superintendent that included the following:
- The DuPage Regional Office of Education and DuPage County Health Department's firm recommendation is that districts do not conduct any type of in-person graduation ceremony, including drive-through ceremonies.
To clarify, this means:
- No drive-in or drive-through ceremonies;
- No photo sessions of students walking across a stage;
- No gathering of people, even if the intent is to keep them spaced out, both from a time and or space perspective.
- Honoring graduating students through virtual events and ceremonies is allowed and encouraged.
Not knowing if or when a similar message may come from the Lake County Regional Office of Education, we have determined it is in everyone's best interest to continue our planning and coordination of a virtual graduation event. We continue, as recently as yesterday morning, to meet to discuss additional ways of thanking, recognizing, honoring, and celebrating the accomplishments of our students making milestone transitions, our retiring staff members, and our 8th Grade Graduates, among others. As we are able, we will continue to consider and potentially mobilize plans that are deemed safe, practical, and in accordance with all the advice we are receiving and mandates we are under. With that said and for now, we are placing a hold on the coordination of any on-site activities, parades, reverse parades, drive by or drive through celebrations, etc.
We are trying to be prudent in our approach and only bring people out of their homes for the essential activities, during which we can abide by all the recommendations and guidance we have received. This would apply to the upcoming retrieval of items from the schools, as that may include medication, clothing, and other materials necessary to have at home. Communication from the individual schools has or will be coming out about these processes.
We have considered identifying a future date for an onsite graduation and other celebrations, however, with the recent release of the Governor's Five Phase Plan for re-opening, it is uncertain, at best, as to when we will again be able to have large gatherings, as defined in Phase 5. With so much that has already been disrupted and taken away, we hesitate to put one more thing out there to raise hope, only to see it postponed, canceled, or suspended.
We fully understand that not everyone will agree with our approach and we are aware there are examples of things being addressed and handled differently in surrounding districts. With that said, we wanted to share the information we have and some of the thinking behind it.
Our hearts ache for everyone and everything impacted by this current reality and relentless pandemic. Know that we are working as best we can to consider, wrestle with, and weigh all options regarding every decision we are faced with. In the end, we are honestly trying to do what is right, advised, and responsible.
Thank you for your partnership, trust, and support.
Be and stay well,
Dr. Bradford Hubbard