Diplomas Should Be Given

A Letter to Santa Barbara County's Health Officer

Dr. Ansorg,

Thank you for all of your work and attention to our communities during our collective response to COVID-19. As you are aware, High-School Graduation is the culmination of thirteen years of education and the seniors in Santa Barbara County, recognized as the class of 2020, have made a tremendous sacrifice in the interest of public health. For instance, the last three months of a senior year usually include: bidding farewell to beloved teachers, competing for the final time in interscholastic sports, senior night, collegiate signing day, senior prom, barbeques with family and friends; and the list goes on. As a local graduate (Righetti ’97) and a former teacher, I am intimately aware of the special nature of graduations for all students throughout the County and understand the importance of this year more than most.

Bob Nelson and his to-be wife, Jamie Donaldson, at graduation in 1997

For this reason, I am writing this letter and calling attention to the Public Health Order 8.1, which I do not believe acknowledges the sacrifices already made by our seniors, or the ongoing efforts by our education community to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Over the last few weeks, I have spent hours talking to principals, superintendents, and families throughout the County about their concerns and needs, and based on my conversations and findings, I respectfully request that you reconsider two pieces of the 8.1 Order.

The first request relates to “Nothing shall be handed out such as diplomas, awards, medals, programs.” (Attachment B, 28., d., iii.) Since the beginning of this crisis, educators and institutions have been tasked with handing out lunches and “work packets” on a daily basis. They have done so in a manner consistent with social distancing protocols, and to date, no outbreaks have been linked to their current practices. There is no reason for us to think, these same protocols and actions cannot be taken when it comes to the receipt of a diploma and the hosting of a graduation ceremony.

The second request for consideration pertains to “All persons must remain in the vehicle in which they arrived at all times during the event.” (Attachment B, 28., a., iv.) This standard lacks a science or evidence-based rationale, and has a disproportionate impact on the perceived level of success relating to the event. In order to make the graduation ceremony memorable, many schools have tentatively designed ceremonies where seniors can leave their cars, have pictures taken, or receive their diplomas in line without threatening the general health of the public. Clearly, there would be trained and supervising personnel present to enforce these protocols, and as we wholeheartedly understand the need to avoid large gatherings, we are also confident that the requests above recognize and continue to respond this need.

Considering the multiple conversations and consultations that I have had with local education leaders and my own experience as a teacher, I suggest amending those specific items in Public Health Order 8.1 as follows:

  • Diplomas and awards will be provided to graduates in accordance with the protocols being used for the ongoing administration of school lunches and/or work packets.
  • Graduates may be allowed to leave their cars as long as social distancing protocols coincide with the up-to-date mandates by the Governor of California, and no physical contact perceived as a threat to the general public health should be made by graduates or staff. The school will make available a school resource officer/s and/or school security officer/s, either public or private; to assure that measures are enforced.

I believe that these science-based concessions are reasonable and hope that you continue to support our community by agreeing these revisions are consistent with your health order. Our educational institutions have made it their mission to protect and defend the minds and bodies of our students, and I implore you to trust them to continue that task while providing our future leaders with a proper, deserved congratulations.


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