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Ford adjusts regulations to allow for outdoor graduations, Toronto school boards to stay virtual

Last Updated Jun 4, 2021 at 6:27 pm EDT

Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday that with schools closed, he wanted classes to celebrate graduations outdoors. Mohammad Shahhosseini

Premier Doug Ford says they will be adjusting regulations to allow for outdoor graduation ceremonies, the same day both Toronto schools board says they will continue with virtual grad celebrations and will not move to in-person gatherings.

Ford said he was disappointed to hear some school boards would be passing on the opportunity and said 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.”

In a statement, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) says it wants to ensure that the decisions it makes “keep equity at the forefront.”

“We understand how important such celebrations are for students, particularly after such an unusual school year,” the TCDSB said.

“We want to ensure that the decisions we make keep equity at the forefront, so that students are not divided by those who can or cannot attend, while also recognizing that planning for a graduation can take months and as of now, we are still uncertain as to whether Ontario can enter stage one of the reopening plans which only allows 10 people to gather outdoors.”

It adds that given the information the board currently has, Toronto Public Health’s recommendation remains focused on virtual celebrations for graduation.

“As such, all TCDSB schools will continue with existing plans for virtual graduations.”

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) issued a similar statement.

“Recognizing that many students in all grades will want an opportunity to see friends and staff prior to the end of the school year, we are currently exploring what may be possible for limited end-of-year, in-person activities such as students picking up belongings, dropping off devices/materials, saying goodbyes, etc.,” the TDSB said.

“These visits will depend on guidance from Toronto Public Health and the Ministry of Education.”

Ford said on Wednesday that he wanted students in all grades to have outdoor graduation ceremonies.

This drew an immediate reaction from a group that represents Ontario’s school principals, who said the premier’s plan to have these outdoor ceremonies for all classes is not possible this late in the game.

The Ontario Principals’ Council said schools have been planning virtual ceremonies for weeks or months, and don’t have time to pivot to an outdoor in-person gathering.

The council says it is “unrealistic and disrespectful to Ontario educators” to expect them to organize events on this scale this late in the year.

While Ford’s decision to keep school’s sheltered was praised by some, it was heavily scrutinized by educators and the Children’s Health Coalition, who said they were shocked that Premier Ford ultimately refused to listen to a broad consensus, including children’s healthcare, public health, scientific experts, and various educators.

Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said last weekend they believed schools could reopen safely on a regional basis for in-person learning for the last month of the school year.