The Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) says it will proceed with virtual graduations for Grade 8 and Grade 12 students this year, despite Premier Doug Ford encouraging Ontario school boards to hold outdoor ceremonies.
On Wednesday, while announcing that schools would remain closed throughout June, Premier Doug Ford said his government would work with school boards and health officials to have outdoor graduation ceremonies for students in every grade this summer.
The push for outdoor ceremonies drew questions from plenty of education officials, with the Ontario Principals’ Council calling the idea “impractical and unrealistic,” and the Ontario Public School Board Association referring to the directive as an “apparent contradiction” to closing schools.
“Teachers, students and families have already put tremendous effort and time into organizing and preparing virtual ceremonies and those events will move ahead as planned,” said TVDSB director of education Mark Fisher in a statement released Thursday.
The school board, which serves more than 82,000 students in London, Middlesex County, Elgin County and Oxford County, added that it will explore the possibility of holding in-person outdoor recognitions, on top of the virtual ceremonies.
“With just weeks until the end of the school year, we are still waiting for details from the province about how in-person activities could take place while respecting existing public health guidelines,” Fisher said.
Mahek Dhaliwal, a Grade 12 student at London Central Secondary School, told Global News she was comforted to have some clarity from TVDSB regarding graduation.
“I think a common concern between the students is that we’re not going to be receiving a graduation or commencement, but the fact that there’s a solidified, virtual graduation, I’m personally happy with that,” Dhaliwal said.
“Of course, I would love to see my friends and peers in-person, but if virtual graduation is what our circumstances are giving us, then 100 per cent I’d be okay with it.”
Tasnia Rahman, who’s in Grade 12 at Oakridge Secondary School in London, was also comforted by the communication from TVDSB, but said she wasn’t surprised.
“I assumed that something like this would have to happen as outdoor graduations as a whole, I really didn’t think it could be a reality,” Rahman said.
“Obviously, it’s not the same as having an actual graduation ceremony outside, but that’s the balancing act of this year that we have to compromise with.”
Dhaliwal and Rahman both serve as student trustees for TVDSB and will be tasked with gathering ideas from students for in-person activities that could potentially take place.
Rahman said this will build off a previous survey sent in March that aimed to gauge what students wanted for their end-of-the-year celebrations.
“Back then, we had received 123 responses which overwhelmingly indicated that ‘as close to normal as possible’ is what the graduation take would be, but of course people recognized that that may not be the case,” Rahman said.
The Oakridge student added that her peers have already floated around plenty of ideas to add a sense of normalcy to graduation, such as virtual watch parties, drive-by activities and adding pre-recorded video segments to an online ceremony.
“We hope we can use that to have some tangible ceremonies outside, not graduation of course, but anything that the students want and in alignment with something that they would love to see and carry on as memorable moments in the next chapters of their lives,” Rahman said.
As for the London District Catholic School Board, incoming director of education Vince Romeo said on Wednesday there are plenty of questions that need to be answered before outdoor graduations can be considered.
“Obviously, the size of some of our schools could pose a problem… we have had virtual graduation ceremonies last June, that’s what we were planning for this June,” Romeo said.
“We will await further direction from the ministry before making any final decisions on that.”