District 303 to celebrate graduates with video, yard signs amid coronavirus pandemic
They won't be walking across the stage this month to receive their diplomas.
They didn't get to dress up for prom with their friends. They won't finish their spring athletic programs or attend their last award nights or say goodbye to their favorite teachers.
What is usually a celebratory time for high school seniors has been drastically disrupted by the coronavirus crisis, evoking frustration and disappointment among students, their families and even their educators, St. Charles Unit District 303 officials said.
Administrators have been trying to roll with the punches, developing creative ways to recognize the Class of 2020 while still adhering to social distancing guidelines: video graduation ceremonies, yard signs, virtual honors nights, a senior raffle.
But some St. Charles North and East parents believe their kids deserve a larger-scale celebration -- parades, photo opportunities, drive-through ceremonies -- before moving into the next phase of their lives.
"These hardworking students have been robbed of their last semester of school," said Katie Obernesser, whose son is graduating from St. Charles North. "This is an opportunity to not let our children suffer from yet another loss."
Last month, the district secured July 25 as an alternative date for St. Charles North and East graduations, originally scheduled for May 21 at Northern Illinois University's Convocation Center.
The venue has since announced it will not host events through July, prompting officials to push the ceremonies to Aug. 2, district spokeswoman Carol Smith said. But even a late summer graduation might not be feasible given the uncertainty of the pandemic and the fluidity of restrictions, she said.
Wanting to provide seniors with a memento "in light of this unique situation," Superintendent Jason Pearson said, the district has hired Herff Jones to produce a graduation video for each high school that includes speeches, footage of students and an individual slide for each graduate that can be personalized.
The videos, set to be released June 28, are considered a first step in the district's festivities, Pearson said. Students can pick up their caps and gowns by May 26 to have their photos taken. Parent-teacher organizations are placing signs in each graduate's yard.
If state and county guidelines change, he added, the district could organize additional in-person celebrations for later in the summer.
"We know how important this is to families and graduates. Our hearts break for them as well," Smith said. "We'd like nothing better than to celebrate their accomplishments."
Several parents criticized the district's plans during a school board meeting this week, suggesting that each high school instead hold a graduation procession in their vehicles or another way in which seniors could hear their names announced.
Time is of the essence, Obernesser said, pointing to students who are entering the military or leave for college early.
"The only thing getting in the way of some sort of social distance graduation is the bureaucracy," she said. "We cannot wait until August for a graduation."
Graduation plans are being sent out in letters from principals, as well as weekly newsletters from college and career counselors. The district also is adding informational pages to each high school's website, Smith said.