Trumbull graduation rethought: a walk across the stage with a virtual celebration

TRUMBULL — Trumbull High School will celebrate its Class of 2020 with a series of in-car processions and recognition ceremonies, according to a letter to parents and students from Principal Marc Guarino.

The decision was based on recommendations from the Graduation Advisory Committee that has been meeting since Guarino’s initial graduation announcement May 28. That announcement was met with criticism from studeents and parents that dubbed the plan a “drive-thru” graduation.

Even former First Selectman Timothy Herbst joined the criticism, stating that were he still first selectman, he would have shut down the June 6 George Floyed protest vigil if Trumbull High did not hold an in-person graduation.

Following the public backlash, the schools announced that graduation plans were a “work in progress.” The newly announced plans, though, likely will not satisfy the nearly 3,000 people who signed an online petition demanding graduation be delayed until it could be held outdoors and in-person, but there was simply no other option, Guarino wrote.

“As it has been shared with you, any plan for our graduation ceremony needs to be aligned with current executive orders issued by our governor, guidelines set forth by the Connecticut State Department of Education and the Department of Public Health and approved by our public safety officials,” Guarino wrote. “At no time during this process, either this week or before, was there going to be a graduation plan that did not meet these health and safety standards or not have the Town of Trumbull’s approval.”

Gov. Ned Lamont’s Executive Order allows for maximum of 25 people for social and recreational gatherings following social distancing guidelines. Last week, Lamont announced outdoor gatherings of 150 people would be allowed after July 6. Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona also has informed school districts that “graduations will be allowed with a cap of 150 people total, including graduates, after July 6, 2020, so long as public health data supports the continued reopening of the state.”

Cardona also told local school officials that the state is developing protocols for outdoor graduation ceremonies that included mandated social distancing rules and the use of face masks.

But with more than 500 students in its graduating class, Trumbull High still would be unable to hold an outdoor graduation.

“Large schools like Trumbull and Greenwich do not gain any flexibility with the governor’s recent changes,” he wrote. “As a committee, we felt this recent change does not allow for a ceremony that is inclusive and equitable for a class of over 500 students and their families that would need to be scheduled over multiple weekend days throughout the month of July.”

In unveiling the new graduation plan, Guarino acknowledged it was unlikely to satisfy some.

“Our committee...acknowledge that no single graduation plan would be the preferred options for all students and families,” he wrote. “During this unprecedented time, we understand that many of our daily routines and long standing traditions have been impacted.”

According to the graduation plan, graduates will sign up for a graduation time slot, and one car per family will be allowed on campus. Each graduate in turn would get out of their vehicle, have their name read by an administrator and walk across the stage to receive their diploma jacket and have their photo taken. Graduates will not have to wear masks.

Graduation also will be live streamed and each graduate will receive a “grad bag” featuring Class of 2020 items. There also will be a recorded virtual graduation ceremony. The rain date is June 27.

Guarino said the ceremony is similar to about 60 percent of schools throughout the state, and less restrictive than some that are having virtual ceremonies only.