As school districts across the Valley begin drafting plans to potentially hold a traditional graduation later this summer for the 2020 senior class, Mesa Public Schools officials will not pursue such an option.
“Our leadership team, for the past eight weeks, has thought about these things,” said Peter Lesar, the interim superintendent of Mesa Public Schools last week, stating officials “contemplated the issues at hand, worked to make decisions I would tell you in all facets of our organization based on the health, safety and welfare for all of our constituents.
“We have determined, with the uncertainty of what the future holds, is that virtual celebration is the safest for our community.”
District officials discussed the possibility of holding a traditional graduation during last week’s governing board meeting.
The district finalized plans two weeks ago for all of its high schools to host a virtual ceremony Thursday, May 21.
Some Mesa high schools’s Facebook pages, such as Dobson’s, said they would broadcast commencement at 7:30 Thursday on their Facebook site but other schools’ Facebook pages had no information.
The decision was met with criticism from families within the district. A petition signed by more than 550 people was created and multiple emails sent to district officials.
Some parents scheduled a parade to salute seniors that was to be held yesterday, May 16, in East Mesa.
The district had been drafting the virtual plan since schools were initially closed for the year in March, as officials aimed to identify companies that could help pull off unique ceremonies that would cater to the tradition of each school and create a memorable experience for students despite the circumstances.
The district hired Vego Pictures, which has experience in virtual graduations and other high-profile events.
While a professional production company allows for each school to become more creative with their virtual ceremony, many parents around in the district have still questioned whether a traditional ceremony would be possible.
But board members expressed their concerns with large in-person gatherings even if restrictions are lifted later in the summer.
“I’ve talked to a number of students and they’re sad, their parents are sad and I’m sad,” said Marcy Hutchinson, a board member and longtime educator.
“But I feel we have to be responsible for the welfare of our people,” she said. “Now is not the time and I don’t want to give kids false hope that we know when the time will be right, we don’t know … We hate to fly into this blindly.
Board President Elaine Miner said she’s also received emails from parents and students.
“I really feel for these seniors,” Miner said. “I know there are families we’ve received emails from that have only one child and this was their one and only opportunity to see their child have a graduation. It tugs at my heartstrings to hear the disappointment.”
Other school districts have already announced plans to host in-person ceremonies – if permitted – in June or July.
Mountain View High parent Jessica Wattenarger is frustrated by the MPS decision, as well as by "copy and pasted replies" she said she has received from administrators when she's emailed them to complain, "Our community has come together to support these students more than the school has," said Wattenbarger, whose daughter is a senior. She noted that the district even forbade people from gathering in the school parking lot for the parade that was scheduled for last night.
Tempe Union High School District announced it would host a virtual graduation this month and hopes to hold a traditional in-person ceremony on July 18.
Chandler Unified School District said it would hold a virtual ceremony and an in-person graduation sometime in June.
Peoria, Dysart and Deer Valley school districts have already reserved State Farm Stadium in Glendale from late June to early July for in-person ceremonies.
“We are disappointed that our seniors are getting something less than every other graduating class,” Lesar said, adding:
“But I would share with you that we are attempting to take the most recent information we have about the health, safety and welfare of our staff, students and families to determine the best course of action.
“The decision we have made, we believe, is the most responsible decision for all of the families we serve in Mesa Public Schools.”