UCDSB decision to postpone graduation raises objections

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The decision by the Upper Canada District School Board to postpone graduation ceremonies for the 2020 class until June of next year, was met with protests by some Board Trustees at the last Board meeting last week.

Trustee Corina Parisien reported that many parents have come to her asking why the Board couldn’t hold the commencement ceremonies in the Fall, something they used to do years ago, instead of having to wait until next year.

Stephen Sliwa, Director of Education for the Board, said that having a Fall Commencement was something they considered, but it was deemed impossible after consulting with Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Eastern Ontario Health Unit Medical Officer of Health, about the idea of having large gatherings in the Fall.

“He believes that the likelihood of having large events is not foreseeable in the Fall. Maybe after the Fall, but not during the Fall,” Mr. Sliwa said. “A later date would serve our students and our schools best.”

Trustee David McDonald said that, while October may not have been the solution, they should have consulted with their own staff before making the decision.

“I respect and I take the information from our public health officials seriously, and I understand that they’re making decisions and providing advice based on evidence they have and based on facts to make sure individuals are safe,” Trustee McDonald said. He was concerned, however, that they took this advice and made the decision without consulting the board’s staff first.

“What I am concerned about is that Dr. Paul is not an educator, and to make a decision to say that June 2020 graduations should be June 2021 – I respect the fact that that’s his advice, but I think we should seek some guidance, some feedback, and some advice from our own staff.”

He added that the idea of holding multiple graduation ceremonies during the busiest time of year will provide many logistical challenges for schools, and students who’ve already graduated may not be able to make it back for the ceremony a year later. Many people will have already been in the world of work for more than a year by then, he added, and those in post-secondary education will likely be busy working for the summer as well.

“Our students attend their high school graduations because it’s one of the last days they’re around. They’ve written exams, they go to their graduations,” he said. “I just think for us to put a stake in the ground now and say we’re going to postpone it until June of next year, without having that conversation, that consultation, provides some unique challenges we’re going to run into.”

Director Sliwa pointed out that they didn’t make the decision lightly, and the Board is consulting with school principals to find innovative ways to celebrate the milestone, since it can’t be done in the traditional way.

“While the formal ceremony is not going to take place in June, or even in the Fall, we can still do things to honour, celebrate and acknowledge students by using ingenuity, and innovation, and many of our schools have already launched those conversations,” he said.

He added that a small working group of secondary principals has been set up, with which senior staff is working to come up with some ideas and concepts that schools can use.

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