Toronto schools will go ahead with virtual graduations this month despite Premier Doug Ford's suggestion that outdoor celebrations be held for all students to mark the end of the academic year.
The Toronto District School Board and its Catholic counterpart said the decision follows guidance from the city's public health unit to focus on virtual graduation celebrations.
"Months of planning have already gone into creating virtual graduations for students, costs have already been incurred, and there is very limited time to plan in-person events of this size," the TDSB said in a letter to parents.
"We also want to ensure that there is equitable access for students in all communities to such an important event so that we avoid some students getting an in-person ceremony, while others do not."
Earlier this week, Ford encouraged schools to hold outdoor grad ceremonies for all grades -- not just grades 8 and 12 -- as he announced that classes would not resume in person until September due to COVID-19.
"We'll be working with school boards and health officials to make sure we can have outdoor graduation ceremonies for all students in all grades this summer," he said.
Late Friday afternoon, Ford's office issued a statement saying he is disappointed the boards are saying no.
"With these changes being made, in consultation with public health, we are extremely disappointed to hear that some school boards are passing on the opportunity for their students to celebrate safely and in-person with their teachers and friends," reads the statement.
"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."
A spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province is not mandating such events.
While the TDSB and the Toronto Catholic District School Board said they wouldn't host in-person graduations, they noted that they were exploring ways to celebrate the end of the academic year with students.
"We recognize that this year has been difficult and that students have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic which is why TCDSB schools may plan for celebratory opportunities (excluding graduations) for students to come together," the TCDSB wrote in a note to parents.
Those celebrations could include drive-by events, co-ordinated classroom visits while picking up personal belongings or goodbyes for elementary students and graduating secondary students while complying with public health measures, both boards said.
Such events would depend on guidance from Toronto Public Health and the education ministry, the boards said.
On Thursday, the Ontario Principals' Council called Ford's suggestion that schools host outdoor grad celebrations for all students "impractical and unrealistic," saying it was disrespectful to teachers expected to change plans at this point.
Schools across Ontario moved learning online in April amid an escalating third wave of the pandemic.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2021.
Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press