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Parkway sets new virtual graduation date

For the second time since Parkway Schools went virtual in March to close out the 2019-20 school year, graduations were rescheduled for the 2020 graduates. After discussions between Superintendent. Dr. Keith Marty, the board of education and high school principals, it was decided to cancel the alternate July 27-28 graduations at the St. Charles Family Arena.

Chief Communications Officer Paul Tandy said the decision was not made lightly.

“We received feedback that positive cases of COVID-19 were traced back to the (graduation) ceremonies held at the Family Arena,” he said. “In good conscience, in the interest of health and safety of family, students and staff, it was not a good decision to hold the graduations.”

The St. Louis County Health Department also advised against it, Tandy said.

After foregoing other options for earlier graduations, Parkway held out hope for a safe, in-person experience for the 2020 graduates for the end of July. However, on July 9, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann reported a 206% increase in cases, jumping from 119 cases to 364 cases in a two-week period. (www.sccmo.org/2105/COVID-19). The numbers trending in the wrong direction brought district-wide concern.

(Source: Adobe Stock)

When Parkway announced that the graduations were canceled, but an alternate virtual celebration was being planned by Fogarty Services Inc., of Arnold, for Aug. 14-15, parents voiced their frustrations and disappointments through a district-wide petition, which garnered 1,200 signatures in 24 hours. The parents called for a graduation solution to take place no later than Aug. 2 due to their students heading off to college in early August.

A portion of the petition reads:

“The current plan, which calls for a ‘virtual graduation’ to be held entirely online on August 14-15 – after nearly all college-bound seniors will have left for colleges and universities across the United States – is absolutely unacceptable. These kids deserve better. We demand better.

“Respectfully, the Class of 2020 has endured more pain – more heartache – than any other group in this District. They have had their proms cancelled.  Their final winter sports championships, and entire senior spring sports seasons – cancelled. Their senior concerts, senior plays, club and team banquets, awards nights, honors nights, after-grad parties – cancelled.  Virtually everything that makes the senior year of high school a wonderful, memorable time has been lost.”

Parents say the frustration stems from other private schools and neighboring school districts “responding to the challenges of an ever-changing world” (quoting Parkway’s motto) by finding creative and timely ways to honor the class of 2020. 

“Whether it be ‘drive-in’ graduations at St. Louis Mills, restricted in-person ceremonies or creative hybrids like ‘drive-through’ graduations, the leaders of other school districts have shown they cared. They have worked hard, been creative, and found ways to honor their seniors,” the petition states.

It adds: “We know this is a difficult time for everyone. We understand that the District is working hard to prepare for the 2021 school year. But we will not allow our students to be forgotten. This District employs talented, hard-working, creative decision-makers. We know you can do better. There is still plenty of time – all you need is a stage, a microphone, and a willingness to work hard to create one final memory for this class. And respectfully, to the extent that it is late in the game to plan an outdoor ceremony, that is a problem entirely of the District’s own making.”

Because of the public outcry, Parkway worked with Fogarty to set a new virtual graduation date. The email sent out to parents of 2020 graduates acknowledges the desire of families and graduates for a  formal graduation ceremony but cites “our own accountability to the health and safety of all graduates, families, and school personnel” as the reason for choosing another alternate graduation celebration.

That celebration will now involve Fogarty Services Inc., of Arnold, which will help the district host virtual graduation celebrations on Aug. 4.

“We tried to meet your request for August 2, but the vendor could not guarantee the work would be completed by that date. … We are truly disappointed that we could not have celebrated in the way we have in past years, but COVID-19 has changed much in our lives,” the email states. 

In response, one South High parent shared a screenshot on social media to alert all parents about the rescheduled date. In his post, he wrote, “While this is a disappointing outcome, we are grateful that our voices were heard on at least the issue of timing.”

“A partial win is still a win,” another parent stated in response.

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