Letter: Schools Board should remove attendance restrictions for high school graduations

Open letter to Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon:

My wife and I are the proud grandparents of a Santa Fe High School senior. He will be graduating in the top 4% of his class on June 17, 2021, at UF’s Stephen C. O’Connell Center. But my wife and I will not be able to share in this momentous event with our grandson, his siblings, or his parents because of the unnecessary, unfair, and discourteous policy the Alachua County School Board refuses to rescind. This policy grants each graduate only four tickets to the ceremony to share with family and close friends. The four ticket holders will be assigned random seats in pairs of two – so not even all four ticketed family members or friends will be able to share this event together. Then, no “congregating” on UF property will be permitted, before or after the ceremony – so no hugs, laughter, tears, congratulations, or photo-taking will be allowed after the ceremony. This is completely unacceptable. 

This policy was adopted several months ago, before recent improvements in the COVID situation in Alachua County were evident. Our high school students have suffered so much, and lost so much, of their last two precious years – years that for previous generations have been a very important part of a lifetime of memories. Coping with this pandemic has been difficult for our students these last two school years, yet they have bravely and patiently obeyed repeated admonitions to adapt. “This is a very fluid situation,” they were told. “We must all remain flexible and be willing to cope with this rapidly changing pandemic landscape,” they were told. But now that the situation has changed for the better, the School Board refuses to budge, to adapt. This is an affront to the students whose welfare you are charged to protect and an insult to their family and friends.

We were first told by School Board members that the decision is not theirs to make but that the University of Florida is requiring these restrictions. Yet, virtually all COVID-related restrictions will be officially lifted on the UF campus June 28, 2021, just eleven days after the graduation ceremony. In fact, even now at the time of this writing, very few COVID restrictions remain in place on campus. UF officials contacted by my son said the university is not requiring this restricted seating mandate, that it is the Alachua County School Board that is keeping these restrictions in place. But for what reason? It is ludicrous to hold that it will be unsafe for all family and friends to attend this graduation in the O’Connell Center on June 17th.

The latest excuse we’ve been given is that it is too late for UF to staff the larger event. But the time and location on campus is the same. The ceremony as planned will already be staffed and policed. So, exactly how many additional auditorium staff or law enforcement personnel would be needed? Perhaps some of the staff and security personnel slated to patrol inside and outside the auditorium to prevent everyone from “congregating” could be reassigned! As for the university’s inability to muster the additional staff (which protest, by the way, the university doesn’t seem to be making), it is interesting, and telling, that they seem to be quite capable of hosting the NCAA Woman’s Softball Super Regionals underway this week on campus – and at full capacity, no attendance or seating restrictions are in place. (The university announced a change to full capacity for the softball Regionals just 2 days before the event but somehow managed to adjust.)

The Alachua County School Board needs to do right by our 2021 graduates. This is your last chance to make an important contribution to the happiness and welfare of this graduating class. They deserve better than what they’re getting from you right now. Their family and close friends deserve better. This granddad deserves better. I ask the School Board to immediately revisit and rescind this unnecessary, burdensome, and no-longer-appropriate attendance restriction.

Best Regards,
Edwin Anderson