Richardson ISD officials announced plans Monday to add outdoor all-class graduation ceremonies in July for the class of 2020. The events will follow graduations previously planned for June and limited in scope due to COVID-19.
Seniors and their parents had been distributing an online petition protesting the limited June graduations, which involve a few students at a time arriving at district stadiums to receive their diploma and take quick photos.
Earlier this month, RISD distributed a survey to seniors and parents requesting their input. Option A was a ceremony for the entire class, spaced 6 feet apart on the stadium field. No guests would be allowed, but the event would be live-streamed for families. Option B invited students to drive through the stadium parking lot and walk across a stage to accept a diploma and take a photo. Honor speeches would be pre-recorded and a video would be made available. Option C, selected by RISD, involves alternating groups of students and their family members arriving at the stadium, receiving their diploma and taking pictures. Option D was a virtual graduation conducted online.
“The survey results were overwhelmingly clear that seniors favored one of the in-person graduation options instead of a virtual option,” LHHS announced via social media, sharing plans to adopt Option C.
Results of the survey were somewhat split, with more seniors (39%) selecting Option A and more parents (41%) choosing Option C. Students added an all-class graduation to the long list of high school milestones they’d never see.
“Not having a say in this and having so many things taken away from us is saddening,” wrote Ruby Martinez, the RISD student who created the petition pressing for an all-class event. “While we sympathize with everyone affected by COVID-19, other districts are offering a graduation ceremony [with the entire class included].”
Students at Burleson, Forney, Mesquite and Red Oak ISDs will graduate at the new Globe Life Field in Arlington with five family members in attendance. Graduates will cross home plate to receive their diploma. Garland ISD will host in-person ceremonies in their district stadiums, with students and two loved ones sitting on the field six feet from other families. Frisco schools will graduate at Toyota Stadium, and Hurst-Euless-Bedford will graduate at Texas Motor Speedway. Dallas ISD will host virtual ceremonies instead.
About 1,700 people signed Ruby’s petition. Others sent messages via the “Let’s Talk” portal of the RISD website.
“There is considerable frustration with the decision for how to handle graduation,” LHHS senior dad Mark Chronister wrote to RISD officials. “It is clear that other districts have found alternative sites that allow sufficient space for social distancing while a more traditional graduation ceremony is held – one that includes all the students, their immediate family, and speeches from the valedictorians.”
“The parents of the 2020 class of RISD students are asking the you consider more options before finalizing this decision. It is not too late,” Chronister continued. “I don’t doubt that you have struggled with this, probably more than the rest of us. But there is a better solution, a safe solution that salvages the ultimate reward for the efforts of the students and the parents.”
LHHS senior Corbin Youngblood, preparing to head off to Baylor University, agreed.
“It’s disappointing that the first time I got to make a choice about my senior year I had to pick between my parents and my classmates,” she wrote. “I truly believe having an in-person ceremony just like all the surrounding school districts is possible, and at this point it’s the least we could ask for.”
The messages apparently made a difference.
“Since the original survey options were presented to students and parents,” wrote Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone, “the Texas Education Agency has released guidelines for a more traditional in-person graduation ceremony. I’ve reflected on recent feedback from students and parents and have also considered the health concerns regarding large group gatherings. As a result, in addition to the June 5 and 6 limited in-person graduations, we are adding a more traditional in-person graduation ceremony on July 19 and 20, assuming that the state of the pandemic and guidelines from the health authorities at that time are consistent with larger group gatherings. Students can choose to participate in one or both graduations.
“The late July events would be conducted outdoors with appropriate social distancing measure in place for both graduates and family members who attend. We will schedule times to be cognizant of the seasonal heat, and the events will also be video streamed so others can watch who are unable to attend in person.”
“We have heard form many seniors, parents, staff members and community members about their preferred graduation options, and I believe offering both of these options for our seniors will allow families to make the decisions that are right for them and their circumstances.”