Twelve of the 17 Loudoun County School Board Student Representatives for the 2019-2020 school year sent the School Board a letter earlier this week expressing their dissatisfaction with its decision to conduct small, in-person graduations for the Class of 2020, of which all representatives are a part.
After a few sentences thanking LCPS staff and representatives for taking necessary steps to protect the school division’s students and employees from coronavirus in the face of “immense pressure,” the letter went on to call in-person graduations insufficient to “fulfill the function of or replace the in-person graduation ceremonies you promised us.”
“... this brief experience will not provide seniors with the closure and re-connection we need to leave high school, and according to a survey we sent out to all LCPS seniors, it has already greatly disappointed them,” the statement continues.
Per the results of that survey, more than 80 percent of graduating seniors polled are unsatisfied with the graduation proposal provided by LCPS, and more than 30 percent claimed they would not attend graduation if the division ultimately goes through with its current plans. Almost 90 percent of respondents said they would prefer large-scale ceremonies in which graduates are kept six feet apart.
Earlier this semester, LCPS held a Google Meet session in which seniors were asked to offer their opinions on the best solutions for commencement ceremonies. According to the letter, one popular option was postponing large-scale ceremonies until late summer or even later. However, at last week’s board meeting, LCPS Superintendent for Instruction Ashley Ellis said the division had gathered “a strong desire … to have a celebration sooner rather than later” from the community.
By opting to have students visit their school buildings one-at-a-time with their families to pick up their diplomas, the letter-writers say the board has “taken away the most important value that all graduation ceremonies have: unity.”
“After losing our proms, trips, and the rest of our senior years, we found comfort in the fact that we would at least have the chance to see each other one last time. We were willing to wait however long for it. Now, it feels like the very last thing we thought we could have, a show of the strength of human connection against a pandemic, is lost,” the letter reads.
LCPS Superintendent Eric Williams said last week that, per current plans, small-scale ceremonies would effectively replace large-scale ones, though he and other staff members are open to the possibility of supplementary gatherings down the road, when public health concerns surrounding COVID-19 have dissipated.
Ultimately, participating Student Representatives proposed that LCPS hold in-person graduation ceremonies for all seniors after Virginia has commenced “Phase 3” of reopening, hopefully later in the summer. These would have graduates seated six feet apart from one another in a stadium or football field, while further policies and restrictions — such as whether, or how many, family members would be permitted to attend in-person — would be up to individual school officials.
“We would be able to receive our diplomas and hear the speeches of our peers and staff who have worked so hard to be able to give them,” the representatives wrote. “We would also be willing to wear masks and other necessary protective gear in compliance with health recommendations.”
Attached to the letter were dozens of comments from the Class of 2020.
“We all were very excited when they first announced that we would have an in-person graduation, but the plan they just set for it to be with only our families took that excitement right away,” one student wrote. “Having chairs 6 feet apart, hosting it outside, or limiting family members are all options for us to have the 'normal' graduation that we were promised.”
“We don’t mind waiting to graduate with our friends. That is the experience we have waited 4 years for!” said another.
Finally, the writers requested to schedule an additional virtual meeting with Williams in order to “discuss our options.”
Should LCPS hold individual ceremonies as currently planned, they will begin on June 8. Smaller schools will hold them through June 19, while larger ones will hold them through June 24.