TIMMINS -- The announcement schools would remain closed wasn’t a surprise to the director of the public school board in Timmins.

But the challenge, said Lesleigh Dye, is navigating upcoming graduations and an uncertain future brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What’s really important to me as the director is that, come June, there is some form of celebration,” Dye said in a Zoom interview. “We want to make sure that every student gets their diploma, that students that are receiving awards get that recognition.”

Graduating during a pandemic

Of the 35 schools in District School Board Ontario North East, Dye estimates around half are looking at holding virtual grad ceremonies.

They would mainly consist of pre-recorded videos, she said, and possibly some live elements. The most important aspect is giving each student the acknowledgement he or she deserves for completing their education.

And using technology leaves a lot of room for creativity, Dye said.

“Whether (students are) virtually crossing a stage, whether there’s an image of them, their favourite memory from school, that will be the heart of the ceremony.” 

Other schools are also planning to hold in-person, physically distanced ceremonies, Dye said. One idea that impressed her is the possibility of a drive-in style ceremony at Cochrane High School.

And if regulations allow, schools in Englehart and Timiskaming are even looking to hold community graduation parades.

“The graduates can walk through the street … two metres apart, families are two metres apart," Dye said. "I think that’s such a beautiful way for schools to celebrate."

‘Our safety is being put ahead of all things’ 

Ryan Dailey is a student trustee in his graduating year at Timmins High and Vocational School.

Spending his final high school semester at home wasn’t what he pictured, but given the situation, he said he’s glad the school board is easing the burden the pandemic has put on students.

“Although the circumstances aren’t exactly what we expected or what we wanted, we still have to try to be grateful that our safety is being put ahead of all things,” Dailey said over Zoom.

A virtual or physically-distanced graduation isn’t the big hurrah he and his classmates hoped for, but he said there will be a chance to properly celebrate after the pandemic.

Depending on how long the current crisis lasts, Dye said there could be an informal gathering in the fall to give graduates a proper send-off.

Planning for the next school year

All the uncertainty has the school board planning for a variety of possibilities for the next school year. Dye said if the province allow schools to reopen in September, there would have to be fundamental changes to how things operate. 

Safety of staff and students would be primary concerns, she said. Teachers may have to wear masks, more hand sanitizer stations would need to be installed, and then there’s figuring out how to enforce physical distancing.

“We may end up having tape on the floor,” Dye said. “And so we would need to let students know — particularly our students with special needs — that ... you stand behind that tape, so you’re not touching your classmate in front of you.”

That’s assuming all students would be able to return to school at the same time, Dye said. Another scenario could involve staggered entry, where different grades would start school on a different day. Or even staggered school days altogether.

There could even be a mix of online distanced learning and face-to-face school days, Dye said.

“(It’s all) depending on how far COVID-19 spreads.”