Ottawa's two biggest school boards say they will go ahead with virtual graduation ceremonies, just days after Premier Doug Ford expressed his desire that students of all ages attend in-person, outdoor events to celebrate the end of the school year.
Ford announced Wednesday that schools in the province would remain closed until September, but also promised his government was working with school boards to safely hold outdoor end-of-year ceremonies.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB), however, both say that won't be happening.
"At this point, we do not see it as feasible to have 200-300 students outdoors for a graduation ceremony," the OCSB said in a statement.
"Even during non-pandemic years, we don't go with that option due to the logistics involved with chairs, stages, AV equipment, etc. and the fact that in a school year, we don't have the luxury of alternative rain dates."
The Catholic board said it plans to hold a virtual ceremony, and then allow students to come to school to take photos and get their diploma while wearing their cap and gown.
In a letter Friday to parents, the OCDSB said it would proceed with virtual commencement ceremonies as planned.
"The OCDSB will also be examining opportunities for a safe in-person element," the public board wrote.
Students devastated, Ford disappointed
The school boards' decisions left Ottawa students like Adna Osman feeling let down.
"This year we didn't really have anything. We didn't have any of the stuff that we thought we would be having," said Osman, a Grade 12 student graduating from Earl of March Secondary School in Kanata. "So it did feel like, OK, this is the light at the end of the tunnel, to be able to have our graduation."
"It's just really unfortunate."
Christopher Watchcorn, a parent with two children graduating this year, said his 12-year-old daughter — who's graduating from Grade 6 at Elmdale Public School in Nepean — was particularly devastated by the news.
Watchcorn said she was selected as valedictorian of her class and was "[over]-the-moon excited" about the prospect of an in-person graduation event.
"Then a couple of days later, when OCDSB said they weren't able to accommodate any of these in-person ceremonies, that just became a devastating event to her," Watchcorn said.
"She had lost ... that opportunity to graduate and see her friends and get up and talk in front of her class."
Watchcorn said he is upset the premier didn't co-ordinate with the school board before announcing his desire for in-person events.
'Think outside the box'
Outdoor gatherings of people who don't live in the same household are currently limited to five in Ontario.
When the province initiates the first step of its reopening plan — expected during the week of June 14 or sooner — that will increase to 10. Weddings, funerals, religious and other ceremonies will be allowed to go ahead, but with capacity limited to permit physical distancing.
The premier's office said on Friday the government plans to make regulatory changes to allow school boards to hold large outdoor events and is "extremely disappointed" that some are passing on the option.
"With weeks left to plan, there is no reason that in a year like no other, school boards can't think outside the box and do all they can to safely give Ontario students the send-off they rightfully deserve," Ford's office said in a statement.