Board of Education, administration discuss graduation alternatives

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Alya Mehrtash managing editor

BHUSD graduation ceremonies are currently still set to occur, though most likely at a postponed date, after members of the Board of Education and BHUSD administrators have convened on virtual meetings to discuss how the recent COVID-19 outbreak would affect such events.

The first board meeting in which graduation ceremonies were discussed was live-streamed on April 14. Vice President Rachelle Marcus started the meeting by reading a letter to the board written by senior Angela Bradbury.

“I fully understand that some events are lost due to the current crisis which breaks my heart, but graduation cannot be something that my class loses,” Bradbury wrote. “I urge you and the Board of Education please to consider making graduation possible once this pandemic has passed. Not just an online version of it, but a live ceremony that all families and friends can attend at BHHS, even if it’s in the summer.”

Sharon Hanson, a mother of two BHHS students, one of whom is a member of the Class of 2020, wrote to the Board, urging them to “be creative and think outside of the box on how we can do a formal graduation ceremony for the 2020 graduating class, even if the graduation ceremony is delayed for a few weeks.”

Other parents of seniors, such as Neil and Rachel Sheff, reflected the same sentiments. They feel that cancelling graduation would be an unfortunate outcome for the seniors and the community, alike.

“Graduation is an opportunity for her family and community to say, ‘Job well done,’ and show our pride and gratitude in all our seniors have done to get to this point in their lives,” they wrote in a letter to the board. “To leave BHHS without a ceremony or opportunity to acknowledge all of their hard work would be a shame and leave such a sad recollection of what should have been such a great time in their lives.” 

Board President Isabel Hacker also expressed her desire to have some form of an in-person graduation ceremony, though only if it is safe for students and all who wish to attend, and if it is deemed acceptable by the state government.

“If we’re given the green light from the state of California that allows us that wiggle room to have a group convene–a graduation, an event of that nature–then I think we should allow for that to happen, taking the social distancing rules and guidelines, of course very seriously and making those be part of how we structure our graduations, but I think we should try to postpone at this point,” Hacker said.

However, while all board members came to a consensus over wanting a postponed in-person graduation if plausible, Hacker, as well as other board members including Noah Margo, acknowledged that the ideal plan may ultimately be too dangerous to carry out.

“If the arrangement is such that for the summer, large groups of groups cannot convene, then we should follow that ordinance. But it is only April, and April looked very different from March…hopefully June and July will look very different,” Hacker said. “Postponing the graduation would be ideal and also planning ahead for not having that happen. The best thing we can do is prepare for the worst and plan for the best.”

During the online meeting, Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy stated that “we do need to make sure that we create something memorable for our students,” referencing a possible video montage as an additional gift to the seniors in case an in-person graduation cannot be held. He told members of the Board of Education, as well as online viewers, that he has had “very productive conversations” with BHUSD Director of Public Relations Rebecca Starkins, Beverly Vista Middle School principal Kevin Allen and BHHS principal Mark Mead regarding the district graduations and proposals for possible alternatives for the events. However, for now, cancellation of any graduation is not on their radar, according to Bregy.

“Looking at that postponement or whatever that’s going to look like is key because we’re not making a decision to cancel right now, so that is absolutely on the table,” he said.

Later that week, seniors received a survey from the district with multiple questions regarding a possibly-postponed graduation ceremony, as well as alternatives if social distancing policies do not allow for such an event to occur. 

In a special board meeting on April 20, Bregy shared an update on the results of the survey. A total of 94.9% of surveyed students voted in favor of a postponed live graduation ceremony in some capacity, whether it included an additional video or not. Additionally, nearly 94% of seniors said that they would return for a postponed graduation.

Bradbury, like many of her peers, views graduation as more than just a ceremony and urged the board to find a safe way to host a graduation for the class of 2020.

“Graduation is not just an event, but a rite of passage from childhood to independent adulthood,” Bradbury wrote. “Please don’t let my class be the only one that never experiences this.”

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