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‘I am encouraging boards to reschedule these events based on input from local medical officers of health,’ Education Minister Stephen Lecce, seen here at Queen's Park on April 10, 2020, said.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The Ontario government is asking its school boards to reschedule high-school graduation ceremonies for the fall, a rite of passage that has been temporarily shelved to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Schools across the province are closed until at least the end of this month, and many school boards are in the middle of planning how to celebrate the accomplishments of their graduating class.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement on Monday that graduating students deserve a ceremony to celebrate their academic journey, even if delayed because of the pandemic.

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"I am encouraging boards to reschedule these events based on input from local medical officers of health,” Mr. Lecce said. “In some cases, this might mean facilitating graduation ceremonies and proms during the summer or fall when it is safe to do so.”

Some, including the Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board, have rescheduled their commencement ceremonies to the Thanksgiving weekend in October, when students generally return home. One Toronto high school sent a note to families that said commencement would take place during the December holidays, instead of in late June.

Proms and commencement ceremonies typically take place this month and next. Robert Eatough, a superintendent of education at the Halton District School Board, said with schools closing, students have missed out on athletics, competitions and now graduation ceremonies. “The kids have lost a lot, there’s no question,” he said.

Mr. Eatough’s school board, west of Toronto, has planned a virtual prom for graduating students next month, and he said that some schools have started planning for graduation ceremonies in the fall.

“For now, we are trying to develop contingency plans for as many events as feasible,” Mr. Eatough said. "It may be possible to reschedule some events to the fall depending on the restrictions for large group gatherings and whether it is safe. "

Lynora Saxinger, an infectious-diseases specialist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said delaying those events is appropriate, as a number of countries are “testing limits” and Canada may learn from those decisions.

“Honestly, though, it doesn’t look very hopeful so far. Relaxing restrictions generally seems to result in rapid case growth so it’s hard to imagine that this type of event could take place in the usual way,” she said.

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Dr. Saxinger said schools could look at open-air ceremonies and limiting physical attendance.

“I’d plan for the worst," she said. “How could a virtual event be meaningful and interactive?”

She said she would also consider possibilities for the best, and that “things [would be] under control enough to have some element of in-person contact.”

Cameron Prosic, a Grade 12 student in Hamilton, said while many of his peers understand why their graduating ceremonies are not happening this spring, they are still disappointed. His board said that the hope is to hold commencement ceremonies in the fall, pending direction from public health. The students will get their certificates, however, the board said.

Mr. Posic said that while he’s not into ceremonies, “it will be fun just to be able to walk across the stage … and get your diploma.”

“I definitely think they should commit to rescheduling graduation ceremonies specifically. Those are really important milestones for a lot of people and they take a lot of pride in graduating,” he said.

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