The Waterloo School Board spent the majority of its meeting Monday night hearing public comments on graduation plans.
Graduation was supposed to be May 17, but the stay at home order as part of the coronavirus pandemic derailed that plan.
Marilyn Goodsell Fausz, the parent of a Waterloo High School senior, served as spokesperson for an undisclosed number of parents and students dissatisfied with how the school district has handled graduation.
Goodsell Fausz expressed concerns related to the district’s plans not being celebratory enough, events taking place at times when parents and students might not be able to attend and communication being inefficient.
On that first topic, Goodsell Fausz said she spoke to students who attended a May 11 photo day for an upcoming virtual graduation ceremony and solicited their feedback.
“They feel uncared for,” Goodsell Fausz summarized. “They feel left behind. And it’s beyond COVID-19 at this point because they’re seeing the other schools doing things.”
“The feedback from the students was there was no celebration, no decoration,” Goodsell Fausz continued, adding that students described the event as “insignificant” and not memorable. “In fact, I was told by several of them that it was almost like they were having a mug shot taken.”
In terms of communication and timing, Goodsell Fausz criticized the district for making it a “scavenger hunt” to find announcements instead of sending out one document with all the necessary information.
She also said the district has planned events on weekdays or not given students or parents enough time to get off work.
“In many ways right now, our school seems to be scrambling to get things out,” Goodsell Fausz said. “While we’re appreciative that those things are happening, the population of the parents that work and, in fact, our seniors that work, cannot all of a sudden just magically ask for time off to attend these things. So it’s almost like a double punch in the heart.”
Speaking for the group of parents and students, Goodsell Fausz asked the district to have an event similar to the one Collinsville High School held recently to honor graduates.
The video of that event, which Goodsell Fausz said that school “knocked out of the park,” can be viewed online.
“They had a party going,” she said of the atmosphere. “They really made (students) feel special.”
That event, which was like a drive-in ceremony, is one OK’d by the Illinois State Board of Education.
The ISBE released recommendations May 2 that schools must follow for ceremonies that are virtual or those that maintain social distancing.
In the latter case, the ISBE listed 11 safety requirements that must be followed.
For its part, the school board and district administrators countered some of the group’s points while acknowledging their feelings.
WHS Principal Lori Costello and Waterloo Superintendent Brian Charron said they had not received any negative feedback until this group contacted the board Saturday, though they had received positive feedback from parents and students.
Several school board members shared similar sentiments.
Costello also said the district had 218 signs with the names of each graduate on display at the picture day event and that students enjoyed themselves.
“The kids had fun,” Costello said. “The kids were laughing. I didn’t see anything sorrowful with them at all.”
Costello also said the school sent an email with a letter attached to all seniors and their parents on May 6 outlining May 11 picture day plans and explaining the district would determine by its June board meeting if it could hold an in-person ceremony of some sort later this summer.
“This was all done in the context of hoping to have a delayed graduation ceremony in June,” Charron explained. “By early May, there was hope that this all would be relaxed. This wasn’t done to be a be-all and end-all celebration.”
Charron, Costello and Caupert also spoke about issues they face with planning events, as some people are always upset with the graduation date.
The district must also consider weather for outdoor events, enter into agreements with other companies to put a ceremony on, determine the feasibility of plans and work with its insurance provider that has said it will not cover an event that does not follow ISBE guidelines.
“We make decisions based on the best possible information we have available to us at the time,” Waterloo School Board President John Caupert said.
For example, Charron said parents suggested the district rent Busch Stadium, but that is impossible.
It also cannot host a parade like the one that took place in Valmeyer and was organized by the community because ISBE and the City of Waterloo itself would not permit it.
“This is a very complicated issue,” Charron said. “It’s very fluid. It’s been evolving.”
The board discussed the issue further in closed session.
It sent a letter to Class of 2020 students and their families on Tuesday, explaining that the board decided to continue with its current plan for reasons including adhering to state and ISBE guidelines, meeting legal parameters and ensuring the health and safety of students and staff.
“We are incredibly disappointed that the current pandemic and restrictions placed upon the district by the state of Illinois are impacting your great achievements and one of the proudest days of your life,” the letter states. “However, plans are in place for two ways WHS is safely recognizing your accomplishments as you move from ‘students’ to ‘WHS alumni’ and begin the next chapter of your lives.”
The first event is a diploma pick up parade and drive-thru celebration with teachers and staff set to take place 10 a.m. this Friday.
Students can pick up their diplomas at the WHS parking lot from 10-11:30 a.m. with staff and administrators sending “socially-distanced well wishes.” Everyone must remain in their vehicles at this event, and no one can stop and take pictures.
Then, Friday night at approximately 7 p.m., a professionally produced virtual graduation video will be emailed to graduates and their families and posted to the district’s website.
The district still hopes to hold an in-person graduation later this summer.