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Oceanside High School explores options for a graduation ceremony

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Oceanside School District officials were close to deciding last Friday about how to host a socially distant high school graduation, but said they could not reveal exact details.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Harrington posted a video message to families late Friday, acknowledging the anxiety that many high school seniors and their parents are feeling about a lack of information on graduation.

“We have been working and planning for weeks about the possibilities of what that can look like for our students,” she said.

Ultimately, Harrington said, the district’s top priority is to host a modified in-person graduation. “We have some thoughts of how we can split our class up and actually do that in a very safe way for students and parents,” she said.

Harrington said she would reveal all the details in a week or so, but there was no further information available.

Last month, district and high school administrators and Board of Education members met virtually with student representatives to see what they wanted in an alternative graduation.

“It was a great meeting,” Harrington said. “What the kids were saying was very loud and clear and, quite honestly, took us by surprise. They wanted nothing more than to be together as a class, even if their parents weren’t there.”

District officials sent out two surveys to parents and students earlier this month to gather more opinions. After the first survey, which 600 people responded to, it was clear that most did not want a virtual graduation.

In a second survey, the district narrowed the options to two: a more detailed description of a virtual graduation ceremony and an in-person graduation with students only — no parents or other guests present. The survey also included a comments section for other suggestions. Later, district officials made it clear they are exploring other options beyond those two.

“We just wanted to make sure that if people were saying ‘no’ to [a virtual graduation], people knew what they were saying ‘no’ to,” Harrington explained. “Unfortunately, there was some misunderstanding in that intent, but I can assure you that the only objective was to try to get input from everybody that this affected.”

Liza Sklar, whose son, Stephen, is set to graduate, was displeased with the options, so she started a Change.org petition calling on the district to host an in-person event for the graduates. The online petition garnered more than 1,200 signatures.

“Let these kids feel like they matter — that the last 12 years of their lives that they spent working to graduate high school matters,” Sklar said. “They’ve been stuck inside with no end in sight. They want to know they’re being recognized.”

Sklar said she hoped the district would commit to a drive-through graduation like other districts have decided on, which would entail students driving by with their families and walking up to the school in cap and gown to receive their diplomas one at a time.

Harrington recognized the parents’ frustrations in an email on May 9 detailing more thoroughly the district’s considerations for graduation, and followed up with the video message on Friday.

“It was definitely a great response, because at least it kept the parents in the loop,” Sklar said.  “Parents feel better knowing there are plans in place.”

Harrington said the high-schoolers would also receive specially designed T-shirts donated by the PTA, commemorative lawn signs, a car parade and a video slideshow honoring their accomplishments. Additionally, they would have the chance to pick up their yearbooks at a date to be determined.