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By Collin Breaux | Email: | Twitter: @collin_breaux

Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) officials are considering some options for graduation ceremonies, which have plunged into uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Guidelines discouraging physical proximity and in-person gatherings have left the senior rite of passage in question.

Several options were put forth during a CUSD Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, April 29: a ceremony on June 4 if allowed by circumstances later in May; a video presentation recognizing the accomplishments of the Class of 2020 if physical distancing is still in place in the near future; or postponing commencement ceremonies until July. CUSD staff feels a June 4 ceremony is highly unlikely.

Surveys were sent to students, parents and principals to see what they think about graduation, with 75% of students wanting to postpone ceremonies until later in the summer and only 4% of students interested in a video presentation. As for parents, 68% want to postpone until the summer, and 13% were interested in the video option.

Principals reportedly felt the June 4 date should be commemorated and physical distancing considered, and anything after the week of July 20 would be difficult to plan for and make happen considering the upcoming preparations for the next school year.

Student Advisor Genavieve Koenigshofer discussed her perspective during the meeting and called the situation heartbreaking. Koenigshofer is immuno-compromised with lupus and said there are people in the community at risk who could be endangered by public gatherings.

“My senior year trip to Nashville, Tennessee, was canceled. My senior prom was canceled. My last 10 weeks in school were canceled,” Koenigshofer said. “It’s been hard. I know it’s taken a toll on a lot of students. I really support what the staff recommendations are, because it’s really not worth the risk to hold a graduation earlier than it needs to be.”

Most students can agree the health and safety of the community come first, Koenigshofer said.

CUSD Trustee Martha McNicholas mentioned the possibility of doing graduations in split shifts to accommodate smaller gatherings. Trustee Patricia Holloway said there should be some sort of virtual celebration if an in-person graduation is not possible.

Trustees also approved a “do no harm” approach to student grades during the pandemic, meaning report card grades should not be negatively impacted by school closures. Students are adjusting to distance learning, or online education, during campus closures.

Elementary students will receive a score of standard met or progressing toward expectation/needs review in place of the regular numerical score. Middle and high school students will receive a grade of A, B or C, with an additional CR for credit or NC for no credit instead of a D or F.

“A ‘CR’ would not hurt or help a student’s grade-point average (GPA),” a CUSD staff report said. “Also, the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems, as well as schools such as Stanford and Harvard, have indicated their willingness to accept a “CR” as an indication that a student has successfully passed a class.”

Trustees and parents who called in to comment discussed the merits of grade marks. Students who receive an NC grade can do make-up work, retake a class for credit in summer school or go through credit recovery or other programs during the school year. A grade of NC will not negatively impact a student’s GPA. Teachers are said to be checking in with students who aren’t turning in work.

“One of the things that concerned me when we went to distance learning was the sense that a teacher has a scale of expectation in a particular course that they have perhaps taught for years,” Trustee Jim Reardon said. “In distance learning, that teacher is struggling with distance learning tools, the formats have changed, the content is completely different. Suddenly the scale is out the window, and my concern—I think it’s satisfied by this policy—is that we give a teacher a tool to exercise discretion from the circumstances.”

Superintendent Kirsten Vital also addressed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that the next school year could start as early as July.

“That was a surprise to everyone. I can tell you at this time, we are not recommending a change to the calendar for the school year,” Vital said. “We know there’s an ever-evolving situation. We have begun planning for the closing of this school year and the opening of the next school year. I’m sure in the coming days and weeks, we will all hear more about the governor’s plans and thinking.”

CUSD officials will continue to communicate with the community and employees, Vital said.

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