Promotion ceremonies for eighth-graders will vary across the district with some scheduled to take place completely online, and some to take place in person with an online option for students who had decided to remain in online-only learning for the rest of the school year.
The ceremonies, seen as a sort of “graduation” from middle school, had taken place in person and had been attended by guests prior to the pandemic but many will be livestreamed for online students and families this year in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a move that has some parents of both in-person and online-only students up in arms.
“I really don’t understand (the district’s) rationale,” Mary Jo Walters, parent of an in-person eighth-grade student at O’Keeffe Middle School, said. “As a parent, I definitely think everybody should be included in the ceremony.”
At O’Keeffe Middle School, in-person students will be able to take part in one of two in-person events on June 9 and 10, which will be livestreamed for online learners.
According to the district, guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Madison and Dane County and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction all recommend that schools continue with current COVID-19 mitigation strategies for the remainder of the school year.
“Families were given multiple opportunities to elect for in-person activities throughout the spring, allowing schools time to adequately prepare including gathering critical health information from families prior to students being in person, along with other logistical needs,” district spokesperson Tim LeMonds said in a statement. “Middle schools have done extensive planning to keep students in pods or groups to minimize the number of students they may be in contact with, and adding virtual students into the events would prevent schools from maintaining their pods, compromising health and safety.”
Walters said she found the district’s stance to be a bit “extreme” and that it would be nice for online-only students to have the opportunity to see classmates in person before they go to the different high schools.
Toki Middle School began planning their promotion celebration when the district first began to discuss returning students to classrooms. The end result of that preparation was an effort to focus on equity and inclusion for all students regardless of their learning preference.
“This year has been a year of many pivots,” Toki principal Kyle Walsh said. “We just wanted to do something that was going to work for everybody.”
All eighth-graders at Toki will attend class online on June 10 for an online celebration in the morning and in the afternoon, the school will host a drive-thru event for students and their families.