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Parents voice disappointment regarding how District 303 will recognize graduates

District moving ahead with plans for video instead of celebration in light of COVID-19 pandemic

St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 parents are voicing their displeasure with a decision by the district to commemorate graduation with a video.
St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 parents are voicing their displeasure with a decision by the district to commemorate graduation with a video.

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ST. CHARLES – St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 parents are voicing their displeasure with a decision by the district to commemorate graduation with a video instead of moving forward with a graduation celebration.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, graduation ceremonies had been set to take place May 21. St. Charles East High School’s ceremony was set to take place at 4 p.m. at the NIU Convocation Center, followed by St. Charles North’s ceremony at 7:30 p.m.

The district had secured an alternate date of July 25, but NIU is not allowing any in-person events in July.

Parents voiced their displeasure in messages left for District 303 school board members before the start of the May 11 virtual school board meeting.

Katie Obernesser’s son Patrick is graduating from St. Charles North High School. He was born on Sept. 1, 2001, 10 days before 9/11.

“The parents of high school seniors in this school district want their children to have a timely graduation celebration,” Obernesser said in her message. “These hardworking students have been robbed of their last semester of school, athletic programs, senior awards night, prom, their friends and saying goodbye to their teachers. This is an opportunity to not let our children suffer from yet another loss. Give them a graduation celebration.”

Obernesser suggested that a graduation procession take place May 30 or June 6, with graduates in cars driven by their family members. She offered Route 64 in downtown St. Charles, the Kane County Fairgrounds in St. Charles or the Charlestowne Mall property as potential sites for the procession.

Obernesser also said processions could take place in front of the respective high schools.

“The only thing getting in the way of some sort of socially distanced graduation is the bureaucracy,” she said. “We cannot wait until August for graduation as some students are leaving the first week of June for military basic training and others to athletic training camps for the colleges they are attending in the fall. Time is imperative.”

Other parents also voiced their disappointment, including St. Charles North parent Cathy Horne. She said graduation celebrations “can be done safely.”

The Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health are allowing drive-in and drive-thru graduation ceremonies. They advise that districts consult with local public health departments, law enforcement and legal counsel in planning any in-person events.

“Unfortunately, as a collar county to Chicago, we are in an area that is more impacted than maybe other places in the state that are further downstate or further away from a large metropolitan area,” Superintendent Jason Pearson said during the meeting. “And so that is one of the challenges we face right now.”

Pearson said the district received guidance from the Kane County Health Department regarding graduation celebrations.

“They recommend we not hold any kind of in-person celebration or ceremony at this time due to the high rate of COVID-19 activity in Kane County,” he said.

He said the district remains hopeful the guidance will change in the coming weeks “and that we might be able to accommodate some of the different types of celebrations that people have mentioned.”

“We need for there to be a change in the guidance from the Kane County Health Department,” Pearson said.

He said Batavia and Geneva school districts are following the same guidance. School Board President Carolyn Waibel said the school district doesn’t want to put any lives in danger.

“Just know that we are with you,” Waibel said. “We are trying to help the best we can with the parameters we’ve been given in regard to graduation.”

She encouraged parents and students to “be involved with the video so they have that experience in this weird and awkward time.”

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