JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Public Schools has decided to postpone graduation ceremonies until July, the district announced Friday.
Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene called the move one of the most difficult decisions that she has ever had to make in a Friday email (provided below) to the Class of 2020.
“It is now clear that we will not be able to safely gather to hold graduation ceremonies as normal next month,” Greene wrote. “To do so would put all attendees and our community at risk of the dangerous consequences of the virus.”
Greene said that when surveyed, most seniors said they wanted to have traditional graduation ceremonies later this summer instead of holding virtual graduations like those scheduled for school districts like St. Johns County.
The district said it has already started planning and plans to keep parents in the loop.
Originally, graduations were scheduled to run throughout May at various venues including the UNF Arena and VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
Beginning last month, students across the state transitioned to remote learning after campuses shut down due to the spread of COVID-19. The plan, for now, is to reopen schools on May 4, but that could change. The last day of school for Duval students is May 29.
On Monday, Greene said the district was still holding out hope that graduations would play out as scheduled.
The official graduation dates and diplomas are not affected by delaying the ceremonies, Greene said.
“I look forward with hope of seeing you in person in July and hearing about the great accomplishments of this class on television in May,” Greene wrote. “Your strength, resilience, and optimism for the future are inspirational to me and will be for many others.”
The district also announced that it is teaming with WJXT Channel 4 and High School 9:12 to provide a televised video tribute to the graduating class of each school later in May.
“We’ve spent a lot of time brainstorming ideas to serve our community in this time of need," said Bob Ellis, Vice President and General Manager of WJXT and WCWJ. "We’ve heard from students how disappointed they are with graduation postponed. In fact, an email from a viewer helped us come up with this idea. Our strength at New4JAX is telling local stories. To be able to fill this enormous void and tell the stories of the brightest high school seniors in Duval County was an easy decision. We’re thrilled Dr. Greene, Duval County Schools, and Airstream Ventures agreed.”
The Brightest and Best showcase will feature stories from each high school in Duval County. Students and teachers will explain how challenging and rewarding this year has been.
While News4Jax is still working on exact details, more information on these special programs will be announced next month.
“We are excited to work with our partners at Channel 4 and DCPS to provide this unique programming to recognize this landmark achievement in the lives of our local senior class,” said Alan Verlander, CEO of Airstream Ventures. “The High School 9:12 program is built to be a resource to our local schools in all facets of their education and this is a continuation of that commitment to provide opportunities for the students throughout Jacksonville.”
Here is the full email from Greene:
Dear Class of 2020,
Earlier this week, I urged you to choose strength in managing through the impact of COVID-19 on this special year in your life. I want to remind you of that guidance as I share with you one of the most difficult decisions that I have ever had to make.
It is clear now that we will not be able to safely gather to hold graduation ceremonies as normal next month. To do so would put all attendees and our community at risk of the dangerous consequences of the virus. While we will not be able to hold a traditional commencement ceremony, we still intend to honor your wishes.
Thousands of you replied to our survey about the most desirable alternative to traditional commencement ceremonies, and overwhelmingly, you asked for traditional ceremonies later this summer. Therefore, we have already begun planning traditional ceremonies for a nontraditional time, July 2020. I will continue to keep you and your families informed as these plans are completed. Also, I want to assure you that your official graduation date and your diploma are not affected by delaying the ceremonies. These will reflect normal dates associated with the completion of your graduation requirements.
While we are delaying traditional ceremonies, we also want to celebrate and appreciate you now, as you are completing your requirements and truly earning your diploma. Your schools are now collaborating with WJXT Channel 4 and High School 9:12 to provide a televised video tribute to the graduating class of each school later in May. I will also provide you with those details soon.
I want to close by reminding you how much your school family cares for you. How we deal with the vicissitudes of life reveals much about our character, and our response is always a choice. By choosing strength, these missed events and disappointments will become a fuel for your future. I look forward with hope of seeing you in person in July and hearing about the great accomplishments of this class on television in May. Your strength, resilience, and optimism for the future are inspirational to me and will be for many others.
Dr. Diana GreeneSuperintendent