Philadelphia's Class of 2020 to get virtual high school graduation

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia high school seniors will get a virtual graduation, the district's superintendent announced.

The online graduation for the Class of 2020 will take place at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, June 9, Dr. William Hite said during a virtual meeting with reporters on Thursday. He first made the announcement during a Facebook Live Wednesday.

"We feel it is so important to recognize our students as I have been talking about this, in particular, our graduating seniors for their hard work and to make sure that we honor them even if graduation may look a bit differently this year," said Hite.

The virtual graduation will be broadcast across the School District of Philadelphia's public access television channel, PSTV, and its social media platforms.

The event will have a keynote speaker, who Hite called "a special guest," an original performance by a graduating senior, remarks by students and Mayor Jim Kenney, a video collage and more.

Hite said a virtual after-party will also be held that night following the graduation ceremony.

Seniors and their families will start receiving invitations beginning next week.

The school district issued a repose to the announcement:

"The School District of Philadelphia shares in the disappointment many feel regarding the inability to conduct traditional celebratory events for the Class of 2020 due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. We have been diligently working to plan a variety of activities that will allow for us to safely recognize our seniors who have worked so hard to reach this most special milestone of graduating high school and preparing to embark on the next chapter of their lives. Per the direction of Gov. Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and with the safety and security of students, families and staff as our highest priority, we are only pursuing virtual graduation and end-of-year activities. We are honoring Gov. Wolf's directive to not hold activities with large gatherings and to limit travel to life-sustaining purposes. While we understand that activities such as picking up cap and gowns is something that many families would like to do for the seniors in their lives, we must put the health and safety of our students and their families first."

In addition, the district has opened a Senior Hotline for students to get help for a variety of matters including college readiness, career and technical education, credit recovery, and military support. The hotline is 215-400-4130.

Reopening Schools

While there is a lot of talk about reopening schools for the fall, Hite said, the district will make plans based on guidance from health officials.

Hite said the district is committed to resuming classes for students, but at this time, it is not yet known what it will look like when that happens.

He envisions children wearing masks and temperature checks at schools, along with hand sanitizer and hand washing stations being available.

Gov. Tom Wolf's education secretary told lawmakers on Monday that he expects students to go back to school in the fall, and the Department of Education will provide guidance in the coming weeks to prepare teachers and staff to return to school buildings.

Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, testifying in a Senate committee hearing, acknowledged that schools will need additional aid to respond to various challenges posed by school closures and the need to contain the virus.

Rivera downplayed the notion that students might not return to school buildings in the fall. The department intends to reopen schools, but keeping students and staff safe might mean changes that involve following state Health Department recommendations, he said.

The superintendent said he is worried about the inflammatory syndrome that is possibly linked to COVID-19 and affecting children. Most of the cases of Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome have been found in New York.

"Although it's a very small number, I am concerned about what will happen when we return in the fall which is the beginning of next flu season. I understand the need to get back to some normalcy, but I am absolutely concerned about all those things, but that is why we are working on multiple scenarios and those scenarios will be based on the recommendations of the health community.," Hite said.

Once children are back in school, the district plans on conducting an assessment for every student to make sure they are where they need to be in terms of their learning path.

Summer school will be held online and only for the most vulnerable students in grades 3 through 8. Hite said these are children who need credits to move on to the next grade or to graduate.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report

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