With mass gatherings not allowed at this time because of the COVID-19 pandemic and regional shelter-in-place order, Pleasanton Unified School District leaders said they are "seeking ways to allow students to 'walk the stage' in order to celebrate the class of 2020, if possible," with the use of technology, guidance from Alameda County public health officials -- and some creative thinking.
The Pleasanton school board will explore alternative graduation options for this year's crop of high school seniors at an online meeting on Wednesday night (April 22), starting 6 p.m.
In late March, shortly after the Board of Trustees announced districtwide dismissals and the switch to distance learning, PUSD distributed a survey regarding alternative graduation ceremonies "to determine possible options and gain input from stakeholders;" a total of 1,061 senior students, parents and guardians responded.
In lieu of a traditional graduation, 47.6% said they preferred postponing the ceremony, 40.3% chose going virtual and 12.1% supported cancellation.
Amador Valley and Foothill high schools are both planning virtual ceremonies on May 29; according to a district report, staff is "exploring various vendors and options at this time that will create a virtual ceremony including speeches, conferring of diplomas, and other aspects of a live graduation ceremony." One marketing company gave a quote for both comprehensive sites for approximately $13,000.
Village High is also planning a virtual ceremony for May 27 but is using another option like Zoom or Google Meet instead due to the smaller number of graduates. The alternative site will also follow a timeline similar to Foothill and Amador for cap and gown distribution.
Walking across the stage to receive their diploma might not be off the table for this year's graduates.
The board will consider a proposal to set up a "drive-thru" at both comprehensive high schools, where students and families could pick up their diplomas on a staggered schedule by last name on May 30. Both campuses would have a "stage" and school image backdrop set up for a photo opportunity as students grab their diplomas before getting back in their car and leaving.
The district said, "Social distancing guidelines would need to be communicated and we would need to vet this through Pleasanton (Police Department) for support/approval," and that all plans are subject to change based on guidance from the Alameda County Public Health Department.
Options like reconvening in fall or winter when students come home from college or possibly participating in the holiday parade will also be discussed on Wednesday.
An overview of other impacts from the coronavirus crisis and the district's response will be featured later that evening.
In a 23-page report, the district outlined its top three areas of focus during the pandemic: 1. Student Learning and Social/Emotional Well-Being, 2. Professional Development and Support, and 3. Evaluation of Student Work. To that extent, PUSD has continued to provide students with take-away meals and distance learning, and noted the state's role in funding "to support the following activities during the period of closure."
Updates on facilities, construction, nutrition services, special education and virtual professional development opportunities are part of the comprehensive report, as well as on district efforts to supervise and provide on-site education for the students of essential workers who are unable to work remotely.
The board will also hear about budget preparation for the 2020-21 school year and the "preparation of potential reductions of revenue due to impacts of COVID-19," and ongoing efforts to keep families informed about the crisis by printing and mailing materials to them.
The report also noted that the federal Department of Education (DOE) recently granted a waiver to the California Department of Education (CDE) to suspend all statewide testing for the 2019-20 school year.
Among the tests included are the Smarter Balanced Assessments including CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress), CAA (California Alternate Assessment and CAST (California Science Test), Summative ELPAC (English Learner Proficiency Assessment in California) and PFT (Physical Fitness Test).
In anticipation of students eventually returning to class, the board will also review Gov. Gavin Newsom's initial plans for the reopening of schools throughout California and considerations for summer school and an extended school year.
Some key points highlighted in the district's planning of a "gradual, planned and safe return to school" are prioritizing student groups like elementary and special education students, implementing social distancing norms in large group settings such as gym class, recess and lunchtime, and "highly monitored school cleaning protocol."