With just weeks left in the school year and looming graduation ceremonies, the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board have confirmed there won’t be outdoor functions this year.
Friday’s announcements came two days after Premier Doug Ford encouraged schools to hold short, outdoor graduation ceremonies for all grades — not just grades 8 and 12 — as he announced that classes would not resume in person until September due to COVID-19. The outdoor events, however, were not mandated by the government.
“We know how important graduation ceremonies are for students, staff and families — especially after such a challenging year where ‘in-person’ memories have been few and far between,” a letter to parents and guardians Friday afternoon said.
“At the same time, months of planning have already gone into creating virtual graduations for students, costs have already been incurred, and there is very limited time to plan in-person events of this size.”
The letter went on to state the decision is meant to ensure there is “equitable access for students in all communities” for graduation ceremonies, saying “we avoid some students getting an in-person ceremony while others do not.”
It said previously planned virtual ceremonies will go ahead, but that staff are looking at ways to host “limited end-of-year, in-person activities” like saying goodbyes, picking up and/or dropping off materials and belongings. However, they noted it will depend on advice from Toronto Public Health.
TCDSB officials made similar comments as their TDSB counterparts, adding it’s still not clear when exactly Ontario will enter the provincial reopening plan.
“Given the information we currently have, Toronto Public Health’s recommendation remains focused on virtual celebrations for graduation,” a statement issued by the board said.
Educators across the province raised concerns on Thursday following the provincial announcement. Representatives from several school boards said they need more information from the province before they can commit to hosting such events while a group representing principals in the province called the idea “impractical and unrealistic.”
“We are being asked to revert and pivot again, to cancel graduation plans already in place and organize outdoor events amid social distancing restrictions,” the Ontario Principals’ Council said in a statement.
“…It is unrealistic and disrespectful to Ontario educators to expect such a considerable shift in planning at this point in the school year.”
— With files from The Canadian Press