Despite Petition, St. Johns County School District To Continue Virtual Senior Graduation
When St. Augustine High School senior Jillian LaValley found out that graduation in St. Johns County would be held virtually due to the coronavirus, she was crushed.
“I just started crying, I lost it,” LaValley said. “I was just so in shock that they would cancel it.”
So she started a petition directed at the St. Johns County School District Superintendent Tim Forson.
In two weeks, the petition has garnered over 12,000 signatures from St. Johns County students, parents and people outside the county.
“People started posting on their stories, and then it started going to other schools and it started being on Instagram stories,” LaValley said.
LaValley also received a mass text from her school sponsor stating that seniors still needed to pay their $25 walking fee despite there being no plans for a physical graduation.
According to the website where students and parents in the county can go to pay for different costs, the walking fee is “for graduation, this will help offset the costs of graduation.”
“We're not walking across the stage anymore, as of right now,” LaValley said. “And [the school sponsor] said it's for the virtual graduation and I was like, are you serious? Because we're not even walking, it's just going to be a video of us. It’s kind of a slap in the face,” LaValley said.
According to the text, the payment could also help pay for “any ceremony that might happen at a later date.”
The St. Johns County School District had a different explanation for the payment.
“The $25 at St. Augustine High School is their senior dues, not a walk fee,” said Christina Langston, the St. Johns County School District Chief of Community Relations. “It includes graduation programs, printing of diplomas, etc. The decision to provide any reimbursements will not be made at right now as if the school decides to do something beyond the virtual graduation then those monies could be applied to that event or could be reimbursed when the school decides how it is celebrating its seniors at a later date.”
The school district said it will continue with the virtual graduation, slated for May 21. Individual schools in the county will be able to hold their own events commemorating graduating senior students.
“I'm not prohibiting an event later in the summer, but I do not want to plan a school based graduation until we know more about what to expect,” Superintendent Forson said in a video statement. “The last thing I want to do is disappoint you a second time.”
St. Augustine High School Principal DeArmas Graham said via email he is planning on meeting with class officers, senior class sponsors and the PTO organization to discuss plans moving forward.
LaValley said she doesn’t mind being patient by waiting for a postponed physical graduation ceremony, she just wants to have one.
“Even if it's next year or if we're graduating with the class of 2021, I would not care,” LaValley said. “I just want to walk across the stage and receive my diploma how I thought I would.”
As for the virtual graduation in May, she doesn’t believe she’ll be attending.
“I'd rather just receive my diploma in the mail and go on with it,” LaValley said. “I think it's just embarrassing that we have to do it at all.”
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.