Graduates at Kimball, Tracy and West high school will be honored in virtual graduation ceremonies Aug. 1 after plans for in-person ceremonies were shelved because of surging COVID-19 numbers in San Joaquin County.

The decision was announced Thursday afternoon by the Tracy Unified School District.

In the spring, district administrators canceled the high schools’ traditional graduation ceremonies and told families of the Class of 2020 that they hoped to reschedule in the first week of August if the pressure of the pandemic had eased enough.

A couple of weeks ago, Aug. 1 was chosen as the date for drive-through ceremonies at each high school. But that was before a spike in new cases of COVID-19 in the county that led to the district announcing that kindergartners through high school students would start the new school year with distance learning.

“I think safety has to prevail in these measures, and we’re being told to cancel all these things,” Mary Petty, the district’s director of student services and principal of the new Tracy Independent Study Charter School, said Wednesday.

The principals at each high school put out a survey this week asking which alternative families would prefer if drive-through ceremonies had to be canceled: a virtual ceremony or nothing at all.

“We’re trying to get a feel for our families,” Petty said. “We’re trying to figure out what do we do if we can’t do a drive-through ceremony. Do families want a virtual ceremony? To us, the district and the administrators, at least offer the option. At this point, it is kind of out of our hands. We’re just trying to find what is a happy medium.”

On Thursday, Petty said the results of the survey were split evenly between the alternatives, with two schools leaning slightly in favor of a virtual ceremony.

She noted that some high schools already had drive-up events where students wore their caps and gowns to pick up their diplomas, and some families might be satisfied with that.

In light of continued bans on gatherings, there is no possibility of a traditional ceremony in the football stadium with families and friends watching from the bleachers.

The district’s message to students and families on Thursday, after the decision to forgo drive-through graduations, read: “We appreciate the hard work our seniors have accomplished during the last four years in high school. The current rise of COVID-19 in our area, along with the current orders from the county regarding both indoor and outdoor events, prevent us from any large gatherings at this time.”

Each school will plan its own virtual ceremony to honor graduates, which could include recorded speeches and messages from students. They will be livestreamed at 9 a.m. Aug. 1. Details are pending.

Contact the Tracy Press at tpnews@tracypress.com or 835-3030.

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