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Sonoma County high schools postpone graduations until late summer, fall or winter

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With spring proms and graduations either postponed or canceled at every Sonoma County high school, district officials hope to salvage celebrating the milestone achievement of the class of 2020 by rescheduling those traditional events in the late summer, fall or even during the holiday season.

School districts across the county canceled initial graduation plans following the recent decision to close every campus for the rest of the school year to limit spread of the coronavirus. Commencement ceremonies were slated for May 29 in Santa Rosa and May 30 in Petaluma, home to the two largest school districts in the county.

Educators have not abandoned some of their most cherished yearly events, especially for a senior class that has endured multiple natural disasters and now a global pandemic.

Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Diann Kitamura has asked the community for suggestions on how to handle events like graduation. The response so far has been to offer a makeup senior week when it’s safe to gather again, she said.

“The majority of people are asking for three dates late summer, in the fall or maybe winter break,” Kitamura said. “I can totally understand where this class is coming from. The class of 2020 has just had to endure so many interruptions. They’re resilient, and to fight to have their time and celebration, I totally get it.”

Determining when a senior week could occur for Santa Rosa’s six high schools will depend on local public health directives around social distancing which now have eliminated large gatherings, Kitamura said.

Most of the 40 public school districts in Sonoma County are in a similar position, exploring ways to postpone graduation instead of replacing it with a virtual commencement of some kind, said Jamie Hansen, spokeswoman for the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Despite the pandemic, school district leaders are exploring ways to honor senior classes this spring. They understand the class of 2020 in Sonoma County has endured multiple wildfires, floods, PG&E power shut-offs and now the interruption from the COVID-19 outbreak, amounting to an unprecedented loss of academics and extracurricular activities over their four years in high school.

Petaluma City Schools Superintendent Gary Callahan said the conversation at his schools about high school graduation are centered now on how to recognize students in the meantime for achieving a major academic milestone.

Administrators and committees at the Petaluma high schools are exploring campaigns that would spotlight graduating students and groups using photos and videos, similar to what the school board does with its students of the month.

“Graduations are like weddings,” Callahan said. “People have a level of expectations, and we’re not trying to do a replacement of that. But, in the meantime, recognize that we want to recognize our students in some different way, shape or form.”

You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Track cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

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