Ottawa's public, catholic school boards will not hold in-person graduation ceremonies for students

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As Ottawa's two largest school boards proceed with plans for virtual graduation ceremonies for students, the Office of Premier Doug Ford says it's "extremely disappointed" some school boards won't host in-person ceremonies for students.

When Ford announced that schools will remain closed for in-person learning for the rest of the academic year on Wednesday, he asked school boards to allow for outdoor graduation ceremonies for all grade levels.

"It should be for all students because we know we must do as much as possible to get people outdoors to enjoy the summer, enjoy the nice weather," Ford said.

Both the Ottawa Carleton District School Board and Ottawa Catholic School Board tell CTV News Ottawa they will be going ahead with virtual graduation ceremonies.

"At this point, we do not see it as feasible to have 200-300 students outdoors for a graduation ceremony," said a statement from the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

"Even during non-pandemic years, we don't go with that option due to the logistics involved with chairs, stages, AV equipment, etc. and the fact that in a school year, we don't have the luxury of alternative rain dates." 

The board notes current COVID-19 rules allow for gatherings of up to five people, adding, "We don't see this changing to 200-300 in the next two to three weeks."

The Ottawa Catholic School Board plans to have a virtual ceremony, and then allow students to come into the school to have a photo wearing their cap and gown and receiving their diploma.

"Logically there is a disconnect between us not allowing classes of 15 students to gather in a school during June and then at the same time stating we would have a gathering of 200-300," said the Ottawa Catholic School Board about potential graduation ceremonies at elementary and secondary schools.

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board will proceed with virtual commencement ceremonies for graduating students.

"The OCDSB will also be examining opportunities for a safe in-person element, based on guidance from the provincial government and Ottawa Public Health."

PREMIER'S OFFICE 'DISAPPOINTED' SCHOOL BOARDS FOCUSING ON VIRTUAL GRADS

The Office of Premier Doug Ford released a statement Friday evening, saying it was "extremely disappointed to hear" some school boards are passing on the opportunity to hold in-person celebrations.

"We recognize the incredible toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Ontario's students across the province," said the statement from the Premier's office.

"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."

As part of Ontario's Roadmap to Reopen plan, in Step 1, weddings, funerals and religious ceremonies, rites and ceremonies are permitted outdoors with capacity limits. Ontario is scheduled to enter Step 1 of the plan the week of June 14.

The premier's office says it's working on the necessary changes to allow school boards to hold ceremonies.

"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," said Premier Ford's office.