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Virtual graduations to be used for U-46 seniors

By Seth Hancock
  Though the rescheduled graduation ceremonies for high school seniors in School District U-46 are over two months away on July 11, Superintendent Tony Sanders has decided to cancel them opting for a virtual graduation over the continued COVID-19 concerns.
  Additionally, the Board of Education approved of an update to its policies to lower graduation requirements for this year’s graduating class at its Monday, May 4 meeting. The vote was 6-0, board member Veronica Noland was absent at the meeting which was held virtually due to the virus.
  The change to the graduation requirements state that U-46 will continue to obey Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders “already issued or an Order that will be issued by the Illinois Governor subsequent to this amendment suspending or modifying certain graduation requirements found in the Illinois School Code for the duration of those Orders.”
  Miguel Rodriguez, chief legal officer, said “our policy is very flexible” and Lela Majstorovic, assistant superintendent of secondary schools, said the update “reduced the graduation requirements essentially by one semester” effectively reducing the required credits from 40 to 33 for the current senior class only.
  The current semester has mostly been conducted via virtual classrooms.
  In a memo responding to questions from Sue Kerr, the board’s president, Sanders stated that if a senior were failing a course this semester but had collected seven of a required eight credits in the subject or if a senior were passing a course this semester but failed a previous semester in the subject, they would still meet the graduation requirements under the change.
  Although freshmen through juniors are also affected with the state shutdown, Sanders stated these changes only affect current seniors. He wrote: “We have asked about allowing additional flexibility within the graduation requirements for current 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students, but the current ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education) guidance only pertains to the current 12th grade cohort.”
  Regarding the graduation ceremonies, the rescheduled July 11 event was planned to take place at Hoffman Estates’ Sears Centre. The extended state edicts have continue with no current standards suggesting when the orders will be lifted, and several lawsuits have been filed against Pritzker stating he has no authority to continue the lockdowns with a downstate appellate court already ruling against Pritzker.
  The ISBE claimed authority to ban all in-person graduation ceremonies indefinitely last week prompting Sanders to issue a statement on Wednesday, April 29 stating the July 11 ceremonies were cancelled. This decision was made by Sanders, and the ISBE has later clarified that superintendent’s and education boards can exert local control.
  Sanders wrote that “new guidance” from the ISBE and the “uncertain status of the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibility of future social distancing guidelines, has led me to cancel our graduation ceremonies.” He added that “we must listen to our state healthcare and government experts and do all we can to mitigate the spread of this disease.”
  A joint statement from the ISBE and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) issued on Saturday, May 2 states that “graduation ceremonies will remain at the discretion of local school boards and superintendents. Districts and schools may choose to postpone graduation ceremonies, although it is not known when large-scale in-person events will be able to be safely held.”
  The statement later states “virtual events are strongly encouraged” and added that drive-in, drive-through and individualized in-person ceremonies are allowed.
  U-46’s virtual graduation is now scheduled for June 13 at 3 p.m. with Sanders stating “details will be forthcoming.”
  Beyond the decision to cancel in-person graduation, Sanders reported via social media that as of Friday, May 1, the district has handed out 781,011 meals (breakfasts, lunches, dinners) and 260,337 snacks since the shutdown began.
  The IDPH’s existing viral pandemic plan states: “No person may be ordered to be quarantined or isolated and no place may be ordered to be closed and made off limits to the public, however, except with the consent of the person or the owner of the place or upon the order of a court of competent jurisdiction.”
  The IDPH states that any “restriction of movement” or shutdown should be “determined on a case by case basis” and not on a widespread basis.
  Furthermore, accuracy of numbers is admittedly flawed including by Ngozi Ezike, director of the IDPH, who admitted at an April 19 press conference that the death numbers are being padded through a “simplistic” definition of COVID-19 deaths.
  “It means technically, even if you died of clear alternate cause but you had COVID at the same time, it’s still listed as a COVID death,” Ezike said. “Everyone who is listed as a COVID death doesn’t mean that was the cause of the death, but they had COVID at the time of death.”
  At the national level, numbers vary widely including within an individual organization, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC’s coronavirus page reports currently 67,456 COVID-19 deaths while the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reports 38,576.

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