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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

  • Welcome to the Oppressed Alachua County, which 6 months ago said, “follow CDC guidelines,” and now that those guidelines don’t fall in line with the leadership’s political agendas…they have to be squashed.

    The Gainesville Communist Commission is now controlling things – get used to it.

    Hope the grandparents are healthy enough to make their voices heard in the next election cycle.

  • This position by the School Board is, without a doubt, one that will negatively impact the lives of the graduates and their family members that are unable to attend due to this decision. There is absolutely no excuse for these restrictions based on the current Covid 19 numbers and the State of Florida’s position on ending restrictions! Also, if staffing is considered to be a problem, there is absolutely more than enough time to properly staff this event, and to resolve any other issues as well. Each individual School Board members should be ashamed for supporting these restrictions on a Graduation ceremony! I hope the people of this county and even, people across this country will take notice of the unnecessary actions of this School Board, and others like it. It would ring loud and clear to me, that I wouldn’t want to move to this county and have my children or grandchildren enrolled in this county’s school system governed by this current Board! Again, to this School Board, correct this now!

  • You can see where the priorities really lie, since the rules are changing to fit in more people for the basketball games. Even in California my graduating senior is given 6 tickets and family can sit together. It is about control not really safety.

  • The restrictions are out of touch with current facts and should be removed. What would the damages be to the county for changing its policy to accommodate the graduates and their families? Why not use your authority to create good will rather than punish good citizens?

  • So disheartening to read about this oppressive stance the Alachua County School Board has taken against the graduates and families of this region. Are you a School Board of NO? Do you look for solutions? Do you look for any means necessary to make the graduate’s experience a positive and memorable one? Will you be challenged to make this a School Board of YES! “YES! … as a board MEMBER i will stand up for our students, teachers and families! As a board MEMBER I will not be pressured by my peers to find an easy way out of having large assembles which may require extra workers. It’s worth it”. For too long the School Board Elections have gone under the radar. They’ve largely been met with a shrug. No longer.

    • I hope voters have a long enough memory. Three positions are up for re-election next year and from the word on the street, one is not running, one has made attempts at utilizing common sense and the other is just utilizing cancel culture to force her ideas. King Poe does the same in Gainesville.

      Don’t like what’s going on? – Remember what’s happening when it’s time to vote next year.

  • The stubborn argument that they do not have enough staff for the increased attendance is disingenuous. When the university announced a change to full capacity for the softball regionals, *just 2 days before the event,* they somehow managed to find the additional staff. Think about it – just exactly how many additional staff is required to host say 6,000 people versus 2,000 people in the O’Connell Center?? The evidence is that the university and the school board (working together) simply lack the will to do this. I suspect the driving force behind this, ideologically, is the school board. But also, “follow the money” – if this was an income-producing event like the softball regional, the university would find a way.

  • If the proper group were to protest it, it would be changed overnight.

  • As a grandparent I find this disheartening that you would put such restrictions on such a special and well deserved occasion. These students have worked hard for this day. To not let those who love them enjoy this wonderful achievement with them is ridiculous. You need to reverse this decision so their friends and family can be there to cheer them on and give them the recognition they so deserve.

  • There are several sets of twins at Santa Free High School graduating this year and they are putting the families on opposite sides of the O’Connell Center. Talk about helping families out! Way to go Alachua County.

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