School board, parents perplexed as to province’s stand on graduation ceremonies

MANITOULIN—For the most part, parents, teacher organizations, school boards and public health representatives have publicly voiced their understanding as to why the Ontario government has decided to keep schools closed until the fall. However, the provincial stance encouraging graduation ceremonies being held for elementary and secondary schools, while still having tight limits on how many people are allowed to attend while maintaining the current pandemic protocols, has almost everyone perplexed.

“It was not unexpected that the Ministry of Education has decided to continue with remote learning for all elementary and secondary school students for the remainder of the school year,” said Norm Blaseg, director of education for the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB). “Everyone was reading the papers, and the indications that the province would extend remote learning to the end of this school year. But what threw all of us is the comments they made in regards to graduation. It doesn’t jive with their own policies.”

Mr. Blaseg explained under the provincial guidelines under step one, June 11 the maximum number of people allowed at outdoor gathering is limited to 10. And for step two, for early July 25 people are allowed at an outdoor gathering. “So any school outdoor graduation would be in violation of these policies.”

“This is not game seven,” stated Mr. Blaseg. “For school boards, we have to follow the rules the province made. If we did allow for outdoor graduation ceremonies and even one student or person transferred COVID-19 to another someone would be in huge trouble.”

Mr. Blaseg said, “as we announced last February and will continue at this point, we are looking at virtual graduation ceremonies at our schools. The other piece of this whole thing is that schools have been doing preparatory work, and it would be very difficult for them to stop on a dime and change to a full blown outdoor graduation. It’s a little late. Everyone wants their child to have a graduation and we as a board would want this in a  virtual format.” 

“Just think about this, most Grade 8 classes have a minimum of 20 students,” said Mr. Blaseg. “Clearly if allowed for outdoor graduations there would be a lot more people than the limits allow and it would be a violation of the current restrictions. You can’t say ‘follow the health and safety restrictions’ and at the same time switch this around.” 

The Council for Ontario Directors of Education indicated that the province has outlined clear restrictions for outdoor gatherings, as had been pointed out by Mr. Blaseg. “So clearly any outdoor graduation would be in violation of those restrictions. Ten students, with only a single parent and school staff would violate the step two restriction.”

“The reality is under the  health and safety precautions, it won’t allow for outdoor graduation ceremonies,” said Mr. Blaseg. 

Parent Terri-Lynn Leighton of Gore Bay, whose daughter Malia will be graduating Grade 12 from Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) at the end of this school year, said, “boards are saying there is no time or money to pivot to outdoor graduations.  I certainly don’t want to be negative about our school, which is basically at the mercy of the Rainbow School Board.”

Ms. Leighton basically agrees with Mr. Blaseg’s take on the issue that the province is encouraging boards and schools to have graduation ceremonies, when the limits for the number of people allowed is not enough and that provincial policies don’t allow for this, perplexing.

“Premier Ford says this kind of thing all the time,” said Ms. Leighton. “You give hope to people and grads, but nothing is put in place that would actual allow for this (outdoor graduation) to take place. He said have these ceremonies, but you are only allowed 10 people at them.”