Dist 117 Weighing Options for Graduation Ceremony

By Jeremy Coumbes on April 25, 2020 at 11:01am

Jacksonville School District 117 continues to weigh options for holding a graduation ceremony for the class of 2020.

School districts across the state have had to pivot their approach across the broad for the remainder of the school year, following Governor J.B. Pritzker’s order that schools in Illinois will stay closed to in person learning.

High school graduations continue to be a point of much discussion on how to properly and safely recognize the graduating class of 2020.

Jacksonville’s Superintendent of Schools, Steve Ptacek says a survey has been sent out to the J.H.S. senior class, in an effort to ask them what they would prefer for some type of graduation.

Ptacek says the district has had many suggestions from adults, but they really wanted to have the senior students voice their ideas of what a graduation should or could look like.

Ptacek says how to proceed with a graduation really comes down to three options, with the first option being waiting to see if in fact the district could have a delayed ceremony.

The second option is, we go ahead with some kind of virtual ceremony, and there are a lot of different things we could do with that. Where we could schedule them to come in, one at a time, with their cap and gown, probably not at the Bowl because it would be so hot we are not going to have the stage up. But maybe at the auditorium stage at the high school, and have them walk across or take a picture, getting their diploma from an administrator. Then put that all together as a virtual ceremony, or, maybe both.”

Ptacek says though the district does have to take into consideration the fact that there is no clear way to tell just yet, when larger gatherings will be allowed again.

One of the questions we are asking students is, if you would like to have a ceremony, when is the last date that you would have to go, and you wouldn’t be able to attend? And so maybe if we have students leaving for the military, we offer them a virtual option now, and then at the beginning of a delayed ceremony we put that video montage up to show them first, and then we go on with the rest of the ceremony.

But even that is delayed by, we have no idea when we might be able to have 250 plus people in a location. Even if this order is lifted, it’s not saying that over the summer we are going to be able to have large gatherings.”

Ptacek says the third option that has been suggested by many in the community is to have some kind of a parade, or a type of ceremony around the downtown square or other large open space where all students would stand six feet apart.

Ptacek says these ideas will not be considered as the district will not go froward with any plan that involves a large group of any kind.

Ptacek says the district has received questions as to if waiting too long to decide on an option would ultimately make graduation a moot point. He says that is where asking the students is so important.

Some of the students know, they want to have that opportunity to walk across the stage, get their diploma and have their family there. I’ve had students say they would not care if it was not until next spring, but the reality is, not many of them would be able to attend that possibly.

So it’s not an easy answer. The easiest thing is just to schedule this virtual option, but a lot of our kids want us to wait and see if we can actually have a ceremony.”

Ptacek says the district is working on some other options to honor the senior class aside from the graduation ceremony, including putting together a montage of senior pictures as a way to celebrate the graduates. Ptacek says even though a ceremony is still uncertain, it is still April, and he is optimistic there is still time to find the right way to recognize the class of 2020.