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Coronavirus: B.C. high school student launches petition against video graduation

Click to play video 'Vancouver Island students petition for grad ceremony' Vancouver Island students petition for grad ceremony
Students in one Vancouver Island district are petitioning school officials to reconsider the cancellation of their grad ceremony. While they realize a traditional celebration is not possible, they feel other options should have been considered before deciding on an online video. Brad MacLeod reports – May 11, 2020

A Grade 12 student in Greater Victoria has started a petition to have more of a graduation ceremony than what the school district has planned amid the COVID-19 crisis, saying she wished students had been consulted.

Brianna Gruber, who attends Belmont Secondary in Langford, said the teens had no say before officials scrapped all in-person celebrations in favour of a livestream video featuring public dignitaries, the valedictorian, photos of all the graduates and statements of future plans to be read out for each teen.

“I started the petition because I really wanted to get an actual grad for our class,” said Gruber. “I felt like we worked really hard and we deserved more than a video tribute.”

READ MORE: Here’s how B.C. plans to reopen schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic

As of Monday afternoon, more than 2,000 people had signed the online petition asking the Sooke School District No. 62 to consider another plan.

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Gruber said the decision was made “very quickly” feels administrators should have waited to see if the number of cases of COVID-19 declined to a point where the limits on public gatherings might grow.

One of her suggestions is to host several smaller ceremonies so graduates can social distance but still walk across a stage.

Another is to have a “drive-through” ceremony, similar to some other schools, where they would still get to take photos and receive diplomas.

Classmate Shianna Mclean was one of the thousands to add her name to the list.

“My mom won’t be able to see me walk across the stage,” she said. “I have a twin sister and we are her only kids, and she won’t see us walk across a stage if they just have a live video ceremony.”

Click to play video 'Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on B.C. high school grad ceremonies' Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on B.C. high school grad ceremonies
Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on B.C. high school grad ceremonies – Apr 29, 2020

Individual schools have been working on creative ways to celebrate the 2020 graduating class. The provincial government has often said the cohort needs new ways to mark the rite of passage.

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said she does not expect gatherings of more than 50 people to happen in B.C. before the end of the year.

READ MORE: B.C. suspends K-12 classes indefinitely amid coronavirus pandemic, says economic help coming

“We will not have the memories everyone has been able to make, and now we will not be able to attend this ceremony that we have been working towards in our 12 years of education,” Gruber said.

“An ‘online graduation’ is simply not good enough and should be rethought.”

District superintendent Scott Stinson told Global News that, like the students, would love nothing more than to hold a traditional graduation ceremony.

He said staff did consider smaller groups of students and drive-through ceremonies, but the logistics were too difficult.

READ MORE: Decline in international students due to COVID-19 won’t mean teacher layoffs, B.C. premier says

“One of the challenges that we couldn’t get past was the sheer volume we have in some of our schools — 360 to 400 graduates in any time we looked at scheduling,” Stinson said.

“And it always meant that at some point, they were either gathering at the beginning to line up or at the end once they gone through.”

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– With files from Emily Lazatin and Brad MacLeod