Dear Sumter School District Board of Trustees and district administration,
As two reputable seniors in the esteemed Sumter School District, we would like to begin by expressing our immense gratitude and appreciation for all faculty and staff members who have been working diligently to support us. The COVID-19 crisis has created a lot of uncertainty, but even during unprecedented times, we must lead with compassion and transparency. As you are aware, [Friday, May 1], Sumter School District announced its plans to move forward with a virtual graduation ceremony. The purpose for our letter today is to formally request that the Sumter School District rethink this decision and appoint a task force with students, parents, faculty and administration to come up with a suitable and safe option for all parties.
For so many students and our families, graduation is the pinnacle of our high school career. It's a momentous milestone that we have dreamed about for 12 years. As a school district, we encourage our students to pursue opportunities in college, the workforce or the military. As such, we must be cognizant of the fact that this may be the only graduation ceremony for a significant number of graduates. The decision made today, in our opinion, was based upon fear, not facts. The facts show that COVID-19 is nearly impossible to spread in a large outdoor facility with social distancing measures in place and masks on. The facts also show that South Carolina has reached its peak of COVID-19 cases, and state officials are now creating plans to re-open the states' economy. Graduation is too big of a milestone to allow fear to overcome facts and compassion. Sumter's seniors deserve an in-person graduation plan that is based upon facts rather than fear.
The lack of student and parent input during this decision-making process is quite alarming and, as evidenced by the overwhelmingly negative outcry, this decision is not supported by the Sumter community. It is also important to note what neighboring school districts have decided in regard to commencement ceremonies. Kershaw County School District and Lexington School Districts Three and Four are moving forward with outdoor graduations at football stadiums with social distancing measures in place. Florence School District One - which has an overall larger graduating class than Sumter - is also moving forward with outdoor ceremonies at the Florence Center. Cherokee County School District has committed to holding an in-person ceremony and distributed a survey to students and parents to receive their feedback. Richland School District Two has set tentative dates in August for an in-person ceremony. Given the actions by these districts, it is hard to understand why Sumter does not think it is feasible to host an in-person ceremony. Even more egregious, however, is the lack of input from students and parents.
As leaders in our communities and schools, we recognize that the loudest critics are often people with no solutions. We, however, have several solutions that we would like for you to consider. In addition to creating the task force, here are our recommendations:
- Hosting the commencement ceremony on the football field with social distancing measures in place. Each student could receive a set amount of tickets;
- Dividing the class up into and hosting various commencement ceremonies (2 for CHS and LHS; 3-4 for SHS). Each student could receive a set amount of tickets. To reduce set-up and prep time, all schools could host commencement ceremonies at one stadium over a period of three days; or
- Postpone graduation with two future dates in mind: one in July and one in August, pending further guidance from the CDC and DHEC.
In all of the above scenarios, to promote the safety of everyone, social distancing measures would be enacted, and guests would be required to wear masks. Now is the time to step up and show why Sumter School District is a premier district. With your leadership and courage, we can rectify this issue and plan graduation ceremonies that truly celebrate seniors and honor this milestone. Thank you so much for reading our letter. We look forward to hearing from you.
TRAVIS JOHNSON and ANDREA CLARK
Crestwood High School and Sumter High School, respectively
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