If it’s not COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the Class of 2021, it’s the weather.
After requiring all of its schools to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies, the Philadelphia School District has ordered all of those ceremonies postponed or shifted inside — scrambling families’ plans and requiring school leaders to make more last-minute changes.
It’s another disappointment for schools that haven’t held in-person graduation ceremonies since 2019, and have coped with the fallout from a pandemic and a completely virtual school year for most city teenagers, including seniors capping their high school careers.
“Out of an abundance of caution and severe weather conditions being forecasted, the District has postponed all scheduled outdoor graduations this upcoming Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday,” one high school said in a letter sent to families.
All 60 city high schools received the news Monday and Tuesday. Their graduation ceremonies had been scheduled at outdoor venues around the city, from district football fields to rented spaces.
Monica Lewis, a district spokesperson, said the changes were necessary because of predicted extreme heat and possible rain. Principals are being given three choices — move to rain dates next week with no guarantee of better weather, find indoor venues for graduation with reduced capacity, or hold fully virtual ceremonies.
“We are stressing that obviously we want to have in-person graduations — there’s so much these young people have had to face,” said Lewis.
Each school is making its own call about how to go forward. For many schools, holding the graduation on school grounds will be tough, given class sizes and the need for rooms to be cleared for occupancy given COVID-19 protocols.
There’s also no guarantee of good weather on Monday, the rain date for many ceremonies.
The news spurred frustration among school leaders, forced to be the face of yet more bad news from the district, and frustrated at a lack of contingency planning. And it rankled many students and families, now forced to try to get different days off of work, solve for family coming in from out of town, planned parties, senior trips, and more complications.
Jennifer Kolker, parent of a Central senior, can shift her schedule to accommodate her daughter’s new graduation time — Monday at La Salle University. But she’s upset at the forced postponement, especially given all the Class of 2021 has sacrificed in the name of public health.
“It’s just another stab at this year’s seniors, another example of how the district and the city have simply given up and written off our teens, never letting them back into school and now the one opportunity they had for a little normalcy has been taken away for many,” said Kolker, an administrator at Drexel University and public health expert. “It’s symbolic of this year, our last chance to give our kids something nice.”