Ottawa school boards 'surprised' by directions for outdoor graduation ceremonies this June

The head of Ottawa's Catholic School Board suggests its "aspirational" for boards to plan outdoor graduation ceremonies for all students by the time the school year ends in three weeks.

Ottawa's two largest school boards admit they were "surprised" by the direction from the Premier of Ontario to plan outdoor graduation ceremonies for all grades by the end of the school year.

Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday afternoon that schools will remain closed to in-personal learning for the rest of the academic year. Ford then asked all school boards to allow for outdoor graduation ceremonies for all grade levels, not just students in Grades 8 and 12.

"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.

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board says it will take time to look at the possibility of holding outdoor graduation ceremonies.

"In light of the provincial decision to continue with remote learning for the rest of the school year, we were surprised by the direction to plan outdoor in-person ceremonies for all students," said an OCDSB statement to CTV News Ottawa.

"We will need time to consider the operational and health requirements to ensure the continued safety of our community as we move optimistically into the summer."

The Ottawa Catholic School Board says staff have been working on virtual graduation plans for this year's graduates, noting the current levels of COVID-19 in the city.

"Today, the Premier indicated that schools could look at options for outdoor graduations. We will continue to work with Ottawa Public Health to look at what might be possible in Ottawa," said the Ottawa Catholic School Board in a letter to parents.

"At this time, there have been no changes to the plans for virtual graduations."

Ottawa Catholic School Board Director of Education Tom D'Amico says he was surprised to hear the premier call for outdoor graduation ceremonies for all students, adding it would take weeks to plan ceremonies for all students.

"We were not surprised to hear if schools were going to be opened or closed, we were expecting one of those two sides, but the graduation comment did catch us a little bit off guard," said D'Amico on Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron.

"I would say that in our position right now, it's aspirational to have outdoor graduations. Preparing a graduation for 200 to 300 students, even outdoors, requires a great deal of logistical planning."

D'Amico says the board is waiting for more guidance from the Ministry of Education, and will then speak with Ottawa Public Health.

The director of education notes outdoor gatherings of 200 to 300 students are currently prohibited.

A Grade 12 student at Mother Theresa Secondary School in Ottawa says an outdoor grad would feel "a lot more authentic."

"Grad is promising, but I definitely did lose out on quite a bit," said Hayden Horsman.

"An outdoor grad will definitely feel better."

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Stephanie Ha and Colton Praill