News

Palo Alto school district brings back in-person graduations

Seniors likely to receive diplomas on high school football fields

Gunn High students head to the school's football field as commencement gets underway on May 30, 2019. Photo by Veronica Weber.

In an effort to restore some of the lost traditions of the high school experience as health restrictions loosen, the Palo Alto Unified School District is bringing back in-person graduation ceremonies for seniors at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.

Superintendent Don Austin told this news organization "there's no doubt" that graduating students will walk across their school fields to accept their diplomas this year.

"Probably a couple of weeks ago, it started to look real doable," he said.

The details are currently being worked out between district leaders and school principals as well as the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and will be released as early as this Friday, Austin said.

Administrators from Gunn and Palo Alto high schools are currently eyeing their respective football fields for the ceremonies, which will be a slight change for Palo Alto High School as graduation was typically held on a different campus field prior to the pandemic.

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Although every graduating senior will have the opportunity to attend the ceremonies, Austin emphasized that the number of allowable attendees remains unclear since attendance will be based on what's allowed under the state's colored tier system. The audience could range anywhere from a third to more than half capacity at each location depending on whether Santa Clara County moves out of the orange tier and into the least restrictive yellow tier.

The football fields will be used as main seating areas, and benches could hold any overflow for the families of the approximately 500 graduating seniors at each high school.

Austin said the district's ability to seat family members of each graduate within their own "pod," while keeping every family or group of attendees 6 feet apart per county health guidelines was a big game changer that prompted the district to move forward with in-person ceremonies.

Utilizing both the field and benches for the audience will allow the family of each graduate to be properly distanced from each other, he said.

As schools across the county expand attendance for in-person learning, Palo Alto Unified School District's decision to bring back the traditional ceremony marks yet another milestone in the push to return to normal for students.

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For last year's rite of passage, both district high schools, along with Palo Alto's private Castilleja and Kehillah Jewish High schools, opted for a car parade, during which seniors waved from their cars to cheering friends, teachers and families. At the time, the county rolled back restrictions just enough to allow for the drive-thru celebrations.

"Palo Alto was a leader in lobbying the county to allow the graduation parade," Austin said.

While in-person graduation ceremonies appear to be happening, not all traditional events are set to make a comeback at the district this year. Prom, for example, remains in discussion, Austin said.

Austin said graduation remains a top priority, but prom could be a topic of discussion in upcoming meetings.

"To be able to tell our graduates that they're going to get to graduate in a stadium in a way that resembles a traditional graduation is exciting for us," he said. "It's been a year and a half of loss and disappointment, and we're excited to be able to preserve some piece of normalcy for the conclusion of their senior year."

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Palo Alto school district brings back in-person graduations

Seniors likely to receive diplomas on high school football fields

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Apr 20, 2021, 7:49 am

In an effort to restore some of the lost traditions of the high school experience as health restrictions loosen, the Palo Alto Unified School District is bringing back in-person graduation ceremonies for seniors at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.

Superintendent Don Austin told this news organization "there's no doubt" that graduating students will walk across their school fields to accept their diplomas this year.

"Probably a couple of weeks ago, it started to look real doable," he said.

The details are currently being worked out between district leaders and school principals as well as the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and will be released as early as this Friday, Austin said.

Administrators from Gunn and Palo Alto high schools are currently eyeing their respective football fields for the ceremonies, which will be a slight change for Palo Alto High School as graduation was typically held on a different campus field prior to the pandemic.

Although every graduating senior will have the opportunity to attend the ceremonies, Austin emphasized that the number of allowable attendees remains unclear since attendance will be based on what's allowed under the state's colored tier system. The audience could range anywhere from a third to more than half capacity at each location depending on whether Santa Clara County moves out of the orange tier and into the least restrictive yellow tier.

The football fields will be used as main seating areas, and benches could hold any overflow for the families of the approximately 500 graduating seniors at each high school.

Austin said the district's ability to seat family members of each graduate within their own "pod," while keeping every family or group of attendees 6 feet apart per county health guidelines was a big game changer that prompted the district to move forward with in-person ceremonies.

Utilizing both the field and benches for the audience will allow the family of each graduate to be properly distanced from each other, he said.

As schools across the county expand attendance for in-person learning, Palo Alto Unified School District's decision to bring back the traditional ceremony marks yet another milestone in the push to return to normal for students.

For last year's rite of passage, both district high schools, along with Palo Alto's private Castilleja and Kehillah Jewish High schools, opted for a car parade, during which seniors waved from their cars to cheering friends, teachers and families. At the time, the county rolled back restrictions just enough to allow for the drive-thru celebrations.

"Palo Alto was a leader in lobbying the county to allow the graduation parade," Austin said.

While in-person graduation ceremonies appear to be happening, not all traditional events are set to make a comeback at the district this year. Prom, for example, remains in discussion, Austin said.

Austin said graduation remains a top priority, but prom could be a topic of discussion in upcoming meetings.

"To be able to tell our graduates that they're going to get to graduate in a stadium in a way that resembles a traditional graduation is exciting for us," he said. "It's been a year and a half of loss and disappointment, and we're excited to be able to preserve some piece of normalcy for the conclusion of their senior year."

Comments

Samuel L.
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2021 at 8:11 am
Samuel L., Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 8:11 am

It seems that Superintendent Austin has quietly "forgotten" about his plans for the 2020 graduates. Was changed to a Dec graduation and then there was no follow through. Not that many 2020 graduates would even want a ceremony at this point, but I don't think the school ever sent any follow up stating that they won't be having any ceremony, ever.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2021 at 8:29 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 8:29 am

As Samuel said above, I concur. 2020 graduates were forgotten.


Anonymous
Registered user
Gunn High School
on Apr 20, 2021 at 8:38 am
Anonymous , Gunn High School
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 8:38 am

Well I guess class of 2020 was forgotten... Why make class of 2020 excited by telling them there are plans of a future graduation but not even follow up on it a year later. I would suggest making two graduations like other colleges are doing for their students !!


Make Force Rare
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Apr 20, 2021 at 8:49 am
Make Force Rare, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 8:49 am

Please please get vaccinated if you might be going. Appointments for anyone age 16+ who lives or works in Santa Clara County are free at Web Link


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Apr 20, 2021 at 9:39 am
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 9:39 am

I attended Paly, and my niece was Class of 2020. She was disappointed, but she understood. Graduation is a right of passage, but during a pandemic you have to learn to roll with the punches.


Open Range
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 20, 2021 at 9:44 am
Open Range, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 9:44 am

In some ways, the traditional cap and gown ceremonies are overated...even for college.

What matters is what one accomplishes or aspires towards following graduation.

Even the diploma itself is just a scrap of paper.


New in Town
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Apr 20, 2021 at 11:17 am
New in Town, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 11:17 am

Where is the Prom? Where is the Grad Party? Students want them. PAUSD is refusing to host them.

As is being done in May Mountain View-Los Altos, Menlo Atherton, Los Gatos - a covid-compliant Prom and Grad party can be held on the football field and both are what STUDENTS want.
Don Austin is tooting about his leadership, but is he really responding to student needs or his?


Paly Parent
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 20, 2021 at 11:39 am
Paly Parent, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 11:39 am

How typical of Dr. Austin to jump to the press to tout his ONE accomplishment (after being pushed by parents and students) as in-person graduation. What he doesn't talk about is the lack of communication and transparency to the parents. Prom, Grad Night, Senior Picnic are within the County guidelines, which for some reason PAUSD has decided to take beyond the restrictions. While they meet in person during their Board meetings, they won't allow activities which are happening at schools across Santa Clara County and beyond. These are optional events, that a family can decide whether their student can attend. SCC is at a 58% vaccination rate, with many of these kids past their 2nd dose.

As Dr. Austin will be quick to point out, he is focusing on WASC. I'm glad he's worried about his future grade and not on the actual students. If you are not the parent of a senior, then, you don't realize the activities that did not happen. Or were hinted at and then not followed through...Spirit Week, Homecoming, Cookies on the Quad, Prom (x2), Senior Picnic, music on the quad, senior deck painting, etc. Only through parent and student outcry were the students given the option to finish AP tests before graduation.

Personally, I'm done with giving money to PiE or any future Measures. This school has stopped being a leader.


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 20, 2021 at 11:51 am
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 11:51 am

“Where is the Prom? Where is the Grad Party? Students want them. PAUSD is refusing to host them.“

Was this a serious post? First of all, the Graduation ceremony should just be skipped this year again due to Covid concerns. But at least a graduation ceremony can be socially distanced outdoors and likely be done at least somewhat safely. Now you are asking for a Prom and a Graduation Party? First, no school would take on that liability during Covid. Please provide a link or some evidence that all those other districts are somehow having “Covid compliant” Proms and Grad parties. How is that even possible? Second, it just shows how when families here are given an inch they want to take a mile. Be satisfied that you are getting the graduation ceremony and hold your own Grad Parties if you want to take on the Covid risks. No Prom this year! How can you do a “socially distanced” slow dance? Please people you aren’t exempt from the Pandemic because you live in Palo Alto. Sorry.

Austin’s “leadership” didn’t fail because he didn’t figure out a way to have the kids dance and party this year during Covid. His “leadership” failed because he hasn’t, as of yet at least, included the 2020 kids as he promised.
Please have some perspective.


New in Town
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Apr 20, 2021 at 11:58 am
New in Town, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 11:58 am

@ Voice
There are outdoor Prom Alternatives: Dress up, socially spaced dinner, music, etc. being planned for May at Menlo-Atherton, Mountain View Los Altos and Los Gatos.

Our hearts go out to Class of 2020. It sounds like Don Austin did not live up to promises made to them. That said, they did have 3/4 of a year and we know so much more about covid now. A huge number of 17 and 18 year old seniors are vaccinated as are their families. It stinks for all the students, but getting into a "which class had it harder?" contest serves no one.


Justin Taylor
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2021 at 12:22 pm
Justin Taylor, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 12:22 pm

> "Where is the Prom? Where is the Grad Party? Students want them. PAUSD is refusing to host them."

^ These are trivial concerns with a pandemic still at large.

Save the tuxedos and gowns for another future occasion.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2021 at 1:24 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 1:24 pm

Life's journey is full of peaks and valleys with adversity being a constant. We teach our kids to meet adversity with fortitude by helping them accept the things they cannot change and by focusing strategic hard work on attainable goals that are important to them. The car parade was, in a pandemic year, a good creative alternative--and much more than many graduates around the world got. Can we please keep some perspective on this for our children's sake? Missing prom was a terrible disappointment, but absolutely necessary disappointment at the time. Maybe we might encourage our now-adult children to advocate for themselves and ask the district to spend some of the money they would have spent on graduation on a party with rite-of-passage ceremonial components and prom-like festivity. This could gather the 2020 grads to celebrate reopening of society for them and for everyone, their high school achievements and give closure to their high school chapter, albeit belatedly. PTAs and PAUSD provide funds for this. Parents and participants might also might donate to help, but young folks should take the planning lead, as they do in normal years, to make it meaningful and fun for them.

Let's model resiliency. Modeling complaint in the face of worldwide pandemic, especially when so many other places have suffered far worse than we, is not a good example. Let's encourage the kids who want an event to lead. Let's support their effort and leadership.

Very little in life is perfect. Best we use this teachable moment to help our intrepid kids lift themselves up, work together to advocate for the event they want, and help them learn to use resources at hand to meet adversity by embracing it as a creative problem-solving challenge. These skills are what they need to build the successful, happy lives and relationships we all fervently want for our beloved emerging adults. Let's turn adversity into a creative challenge. Class of 2020, how can work together with you?


Samuel L
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2021 at 2:00 pm
Samuel L, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 2:00 pm

@Voice of PA - Yes, I agree with this, "Austin’s “leadership” didn’t fail because he didn’t figure out a way to have the kids dance and party this year during Covid. His “leadership” failed because he hasn’t, as of yet at least, included the 2020 kids as he promised."

That's the issue I have. Austin makes a big show of being first at anything he can possibly take credit for. Heck, even here's he's taking credit for the car parade last year. Yet, he fails to take responsibility for things that do not work.

He made a big deal about the 2020 graduation, in whatever form, was about the students. But, now the newest shiny object has caught his attention as something else where he can gain more attention for himself.

As for dances/proms/picnics, I'm sure they are possible. If Austin doesn't seem to see an issue with sports, including football, indoor basketball, volleyball and even wrestling, I would think he could find a way to get seniors some form of a year-ending celebration. And, if he does, you can bet he'll run to the press and take credit for being the mastermind behind it.


New in Town
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Apr 20, 2021 at 2:42 pm
New in Town, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 2:42 pm

Our high school students and students at all levels have been models of resiliency. They have persevered through an incredibly tough year. We are all very proud of students. They have also spent hours working on multiple proposals and plans that have been approved all the way up until being rejected by the district office.

More than a few people have noticed that Don Austin seems to prioritize having events he can claim are "firsts". He has also dismiss multiple student-led and initiated activities as unsafe. This is the second local news article in two days with Don Austin boasting about graduation. Not against it, but have not seen rationale for why this is the top priority of students and important enough for him to restrict everything else in the recent past and near future. Web Link


Laguna Beach
Registered user
another community
on Apr 20, 2021 at 3:58 pm
Laguna Beach , another community
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 3:58 pm
Samuel L.
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2021 at 5:19 pm
Samuel L., Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 5:19 pm
YP
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 20, 2021 at 5:51 pm
YP, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2021 at 5:51 pm

happy for the 2021 grads to have a ceremony!! My son was 2020 and missed out, but time to move on.
would love to see other prom activities if done safely. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, would hate to see it not come off because of over zealous Covid warriors. Last I checked no one is forcing anyone to participate that feel uncomfortable.


Rebecca Eisenberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:00 am
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:00 am

Tonight at the School Board meeting, students and parents made it clear that they are not impressed with Don Austin's (lack of) leadership, and for the first time that I can remember, the School Board appeared to be listening.

People who comment that graduations and proms are "trivial" do not recognize the grievous, immeasurable harm of this past 1.5 years on our youngest generation. These "unimportant" events are far more than simply "gatherings," but rather, they play cultural roles that mark rites of passage essential for teenagers to transition into adulthood.

The loss of these rites of passage -- everything from first day of high school, to middle school graduation, to cheering for the football team, to prom -- are losses that these youth never will have a chance to recover. They are memories that never had a chance to be created, that now are lost forever. In our American society, we never before raised a generation of young people who had no agreed-upon marker of transition from one life phase to another. What will happen when these teenagers graduate into the work world or college? Having been withheld every cultural and social milestone of previous generations, they will lack the cultural history that everyone else who commented here took for granted. You cannot possibly know how damaging this has been to our teens.

I heard Don Austin state the same lies tonight at the Board meeting that he has stated previously -- that PAUSD has been the "first" and "best" at everything; that PAUSD would be breaking the law by hosting Prom and/or a senior dinner; that (unbelievably) streaming a classroom so that kids who have to quarantine due to coronavirus exposure -- is "illegal." His staff presented "statistical findings" that lacked any basic hallmark of statistical accuracy. The few times that the reports did cite sample size, they revealed a District that is failing our children in every way.

Our children are our only hope. They deserve better.


Staying Young Through Kids
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2021 at 10:55 am
Staying Young Through Kids, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Apr 22, 2021 at 10:55 am

@Consider your options has it right. There are a lot of valid thoughts being shared. Many of them valid but contradictory. I suppose that's the nature of a time when everyone has their own ideas about safety and risk.

So...what's the use in complaining about what's been lost? I hear way too much of that and way too much fear Instead, just focus on how we can best care for one another now, as things stand. Examine what has been gained, how to move forward, and how we can do better now (and next time).

Kids born between about 1920 and 1940 knew all about living with less and dealing with both uncertainty and loss. Many "rites of passage" changed for them (several times). They were constantly faced with stress, disruption, and inconvenience (especially the kids in Europe). Those same kids went on to become what we refer to as "The Greatest Generation."

When we move past Covid, with or without a school dance or a graduation ceremony, I firmly believe our kids will move past their disappointments. The frustration and fears will dissipate and the depression will subside and, for most, their deep emotions and their ability to adapt will lead to strength of character missing for all of us who grew up before covid.

We, human beings, are resilient. I hope and suspect that the kids who have lived through the disruption and disappointments of the Covid Era will be better for it, and because of them our world will be a better place.


Staying Young Through Kids
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2021 at 10:59 am
Staying Young Through Kids, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Apr 22, 2021 at 10:59 am

Dr. Austin is another topic altogether.

I applaud a few choices he's made, but in general...

I. Am. Not. A. Fan!


New in Town
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Apr 30, 2021 at 10:31 am
New in Town, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 10:31 am

After reading about all the other area schools holding celebrations and also learning that Los Altos DID hold a graduation in 2020, I'm left to wonder how Don Austin gets away with an article like this where he claims some sort of leadership or first. He was only first to run to the media.

Web Link


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