COLUMBUS — Ohio State Sen. Steve Huffman recently distributed a letter to all senate members announcing his plan to create a task force in the effort to determine safe and appropriate ways for high schools throughout the state to hold graduation ceremonies.
In late April, the Ohio Department of Education issued a statement to school districts, which stated “congregate graduation ceremonies should not be held,” instead urging districts to hold virtual graduation ceremonies.
Huffman first wrote directly to Paolo DeMaria, ODE superintendent of public instruction, to express his disagreement with the statement.
“I and many others have been advocates of the state giving guidance on educational issues to schools, but to allow local control on how to implement this guidance,” Huffman said in the letter to DeMaria. “I believe this is another issue wherein the state of Ohio needs to trust the decisions local officials make and let them to what they think is the best way to have graduation while still maintaining social distancing.”
Days after the ODE’s statement, Gov. Mike DeWine, during his daily press conference, said districts may hold ceremonies, depending on the number of students the district has, as long as social distancing is practiced.
“It is driven by how many students they have, what facilities they have, etc.,” DeWine said during the briefing. “It has to be well thought out. Some schools with large numbers of students probably won’t be able to hold them.”
The next day, DeWine attempted to clarify his statement, saying mass gathering graduation ceremonies cannot be held, adding that the 10-person gathering limit remained in place. He then gave guidelines for graduations which included virtual or drive-up ceremonies, as well as small ceremonies of 10 people or less at a time.
On May 18, Huffman sent a letter to all senate members outlining his intent to create a task force of superintendents, local school board members and members of local departments of health to discuss and come up with a recommendation on how to safely hold high school graduations this year.
Huffman expanded on his stance during a phone call with Miami Valley Today on Tuesday. He stated that while some districts have made the decision to cancel graduation, or have already held ceremonies similar to those recommended by ODE and the governor, there are some that have yet to decide how to handle the issue.
“There are a number of schools out there that want some direction and the governor has not stepped up and done anything,” Huffman said. “He’s about to make a directive on county fairs, which are huge gatherings of young people … but he won’t look at graduation for some reason.”
Given that schools vary in size and facilities available, Huffman suggested districts should be allowed to come up with a plan tailored to their own specifications, taking all aspects into account, which could then be presented to local health departments for approval.
“The task force is to make recommendations to the governor in the hopes that the governor will accept the recommendations, or help modify the recommendations, so that districts would then have permission to go forward,” he said. “Unfortunately, right now there is one person who is the sole decision-maker in the state of Ohio, on everything that we do, and it’s Mike DeWine, so there is very minimal local control in any way.”
Huffman said he has been in contact with other Ohio senators from around the state who wish to be involved in venture.
“We’re trying to get people from all sizes of schools and all areas of the state to try to see what we can do,” he said.
Huffman said he is seeking feedback from district superintendents, administrators and people around the state who are interested in developing ideas, which would then be turned into a type of formal request to send to DeWine.
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