Ford presses Ontario school boards on outdoor grad ceremonies

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Published June 4, 2021 at 6:26 pm

Ontario Premier Doug Ford took a jab Friday at school boards that are sticking with virtual graduation ceremonies for the second June in a row during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The provincial government has opted against a return to in-person learning for the final month of the academic year. At the time of that announcement on Wednesday, it said a “short outdoor celebration, where physical distancing (is) possible,” is allowable. Step 1 of the province’s reopening plan permits weddings, funerals and religious services rites to be held outside with proper social distancing.

“We recognize the incredible toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Ontario’s students across the province,” Ford’s statement read. “That’s why we are working on the necessary regulatory changes to allow school boards to invite students back for a brief, outdoor, end-of-year celebration to reward them for their hard work during an unprecedented school year.

Ford added, “We are extremely disappointed to hear that some school boards are passing on the opportunity for their students to celebrate safely and in-person with their teachers and friends.”

The statement was issued after the both the Toronto public and Catholic boards each stated that they would stick with virtual graduations.

It also came the same day that Ford’s health minister, Christine Elliott, rejected calls from Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie to make a Peel Region a top-priority hotspot in the province’s second dose COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Ford’s statement added, “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.”

However, as far back as February, the Peel District School Board, which covers Brampton and Mississauga high schools, said it had begun the planning to hold some sort of socially distanced graduation. A virtual graduation or a drive-through ceremony were in discussion at that time.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board has said it is meeting with the local public health unit to see how Grade 8 and Grade 12 graduation ceremonies can be “operationalized safely.”

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