San Diego County Board of Education Member Mark Powell Pushing for In-Person High School Graduations

Some of the most ignored consequences of the lockdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are the once in a lifetime experiences that countless students are now missing out on. From prom, sporting events, grad night, senior commitment day, and graduation, the list is as long as it is depressing.

While most of these things have already been lost, most schools were set—prior to the pandemic—to have graduation ceremonies in the coming weeks. No one could have predicted the drastic turn of events this year, but recent developments have shown the success of San Diego in reducing the spread of the virus, keeping our hospitals below maximum capacity, and limiting the number of lives lost. This profound success coupled by new knowledge about how SARS-CoV-2 functions has allowed San Diego to begin reopening safely. While this is a major relief to businesses that have been struggling mightily to keep their doors open and workers who need to provide for their families, students have largely remained left out of the conversation.

San Diego County Board of Education Member Mark Powell hopes to change that, arguing that it’s possible to have safe in-person graduations for high school seniors. Powell notes that “of the 500,000 students in San Diego, 304 have tested positive for the coronavirus… and of those, there have been zero deaths. That equates to .0006% of the students [having] had the coronavirus.” While that number may primarily be a reflection of the school shutdowns, the data and research surrounding COVID-19 clearly shows that young people are the least at risk.

Powell believes that this information shows that in-person graduations are possible and should be available to students and their immediate family members. The basic safety protocol of social distancing, facial coverings, hand-washing, temperature checks, and outdoor ceremonies will minimize risk while allowing students and their families to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has received hundreds of letters from parents asking for graduations to be approved, showing widespread support for the idea. Powell makes clear that for those students and/or parents who feel uncomfortable with graduation ceremonies at this time, even with all of the safety precautions, the events would be entirely voluntary. Furthermore, he suggests providing a live stream of the ceremonies so that those who elect not to attend can still watch virtually.

“There’s really no reason why these kids can’t sit in a football field six feet apart in an area [outside in warm weather] where we know, for a fact, that the coronavirus doesn’t do well,” Powell added. He also noted just how special graduation is for many families, especially those with seniors who will be the first in the family to ever graduate high school.

While the circumstances are less than ideal, depriving every family and graduate of the opportunity to enjoy this experience when it can be offered safely is a mistake. It’s unclear if Powell’s proposal will lead to formal graduations being allowed to occur, but there’s no question that the momentum is quickly building.