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Commencement ceremonies probably will be scrapped as schools close for rest of year

PMG FILE PHOTO - The class of 2020 probably won't share in this moment.

With Gov. Kate Brown announcing that schools would be closed the rest of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that seniors will not be able to participate in the traditional cap and gown graduation ceremonies.

"We don't know if those will be able to be held," Colt Gill, the director of the Oregon Department of Education said at a news conference on Wednesday, April 8, where Brown announced that school was canceled for the rest of the year.

Most of the class of 2020 will graduate. Brown and Gill said seniors passing their classes when schools closed in March will get a passing grade for the term and credit toward a diploma. Schools are being asked to marshal resources for students not passing a class or short of credits to bring those students across the finish line. These students have until Aug. 31 to complete enough credits to graduate.

Guadalupe Guerrero, superintendent of Portland Public Schools said in a statement: "I want to acknowledge that our high school seniors, in particular, are missing traditions and milestone events right now. We will continue to support every one of you toward graduation and your postsecondary transition, and hope to find creative ways to acknowledge and celebrate your many years of hard work."

Gill said he recommends that schools look in to rescheduling the commencement ceremonies or try an alternative approach such as an online event.

The class of 2020 has other disappointments. Senior athletes are missing out on the end of their final year of spring sports. Proms and other rites of passage also likely will be scrapped or transformed into very different celebrations.

This is not unexpected.

It seems impossible with the current distancing restrictions to imagine thousands of graduates and their families packed into Portland's cavernous Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where many schools hold their commencement ceremonies.

Some families have suggested trying to postpone graduation until August, before the class of 2020 heads off to college.

One student at Gresham's Barlow High School suggested that graduates do a car parade through their neighborhoods so people can cheer on the graduates.

Gresham-Barlow School District Superintendent Katrise Perera asked the seniors in the district's three high schools to come up with plans to honor the class of 2020.

"If we cannot host the traditional graduation with the traditional cap and gown, I would challenge them to share ideas," Perera said in a video chat with Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis.

Centennial School District Superintendent Paul Coakley called this "a really unfortunate situation" during the video chat and said, "We're open and willing to do what we can" to support seniors in some sort of substitute celebration.

Danna Diaz, superintendent of the Reynolds School District said via email "We understand that we may not be able to hold regular graduation celebrations and ceremonies, and our hearts are with all of our graduating seniors who are faced with this grim prospect."

She added that "we do not yet know what the next few months hold, but we are actively researching alternative opportunities to celebrate the hard work of our graduating seniors in the event we are unable to hold traditional ceremonies. We will also be engaging with our students and families to hear what they would like to see for the 2020 graduation celebrations."

ODE's Gill reminded seniors that they are missing only 1.7% of their school careers.

Perera urged seniors, "don't allow this pandemic to really spoil the 12 or 13 years of memories and good friends and excellent teachers" built up over their school years.

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