Districts scramble to at least reschedule public graduation ceremonies

By Jack McCarthy Chronicle Media

Metea Valley High School on Eola Road in Aurora is one of three high schools in Indian Prairie School District 204. (Photo courtesy of IPSD 204)

At least one suburban Chicago school district still wants to salvage some rites of passage in what has otherwise turned into a lost spring.

Minutes after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s April 17 announcement ordering Illinois schools to remain closed for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, Indian Prairie District 204 Superintendent Karen Sullivan held out hope of at least holding proms and graduation ceremonies for seniors at the district’s three high schools.

“High school graduation and prom are the only events tentatively rescheduled,” Sullivan said in an emailed statement. “High schools have communicated the tentative new dates to parents. We will continue to monitor directives from the state to determine if we will be able to safely hold these events.”

Indian Prairie, which includes students from Aurora, Naperville, Plainfield and Bolingbrook, tentatively slotted June dates for Metea Valley, Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley at Northern Illinois University’s Convocation Center.

But not much else will otherwise take place — most notably face-to-face classroom education — in that west suburban district or at any other Illinois school shuttered since March 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools around the state have scrambled to initiate forms of online, at-home instruction, while canceling extracurricular and social events.

Pritzker’s official announcement came at a daily press briefing, but word of his decision leaked earlier in the day.

A priority was preventing new cases of COVID-19 that could result by reopening schools.

“I’ve said time and time again, my decisions are hard ones, but they will follow the science. And the science says our students can’t go back to their normal routine,” Pritzker said. “My priority remains unchanged — how do we save the most lives during this very difficult time.”

In an average day, Pritzker said 2 million K-12 students would meet in large groups in hallways, classrooms and extracurricular activities before going home.

That pattern “opens up a nearly limitless opportunity for potential COVID-19 infection in a time when our health care workers, our researchers, our scientists and our first responders need us to bend the curve downward,” he added.

Illinois administrators and educators are “stepping up to ensure that every child in this state receives the education they deserve,” Pritzker said, even if the method varies by community.

Guidance offered by the Illinois State Board of Education includes daily check-ins on each student by the teacher and grading reflective of “the unprecedented circumstances in which students are attempting to continue their studies,” Pritzker said.

“Our school buildings may be closed, but the hearts and the minds of our teachers and students are wide open,” Illinois Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carmen Ayala said. “This pandemic has altered the fabric of how we teach, how we learn and how we connect, but it has not shaken the core of what our schools do, and that is to take care of Illinois’ children and prepare them for what is next.”

Most Illinois schools are near the home stretch of academic years, with scheduled wrap-ups in May. Chicago’s public schools, meanwhile, continue well into June.

Pritzker’s decision also leaves the Illinois High School Association on the verge of canceling seasons and tournaments in everything from badminton, bass fishing and baseball to softball, track and field and water polo.

The group’s board of directors was scheduled to meet on April 21 via video conference to determine what to do.

“At that meeting, the Board will make a final determination on the IHSA’s spring sport state tournaments based on the Governor’s announcement that Illinois high schools will not return to in-person learning this school year,” Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement. “As we previously indicated, the cessation of in-person learning will make it difficult for the IHSA to conduct spring state tournaments this year.”

The IHSA, governing body for high school sports and other competitive activities, had held out hopes for abbreviated spring seasons and state championship competition.


Rebecca Anzel, Capitol News Illinois, contributed to this story