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Graduation for Class of 2020 Aug. 5 and 6

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Graduation for Class of 2020 Aug. 5 and 6
Posted on 06/03/2020
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The Portland Public Schools will hold three graduation ceremonies Aug. 5 and 6 at the city’s Ocean Gateway waterfront terminal for the Class of 2020 at the district’s high schools – Portland, Deering and Casco Bay. To comply with state public health and safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, the events for the 570 graduating seniors will be “drive-in” events.

The graduation ceremony schedule is as follows:

•          Portland High School will be on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 6 p.m.

•          Deering High School will be on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 10 a.m.

•          Casco Bay High School will be on Thursday,  Aug. 6, at 6 p.m.

For most of the ceremony, graduates will remain inside their vehicles, which will be parked in the queuing lanes at Ocean Gateway. Each graduate will be allowed to bring one car to the graduation ceremony, filled with family members and other supporters as desired. The schools will help make equitable arrangements for students whose families do not have access to a vehicle and work to accommodate two-household families. 

Each ceremony will take place on an elevated stage. Graduates will be the only ones able to leave their cars to walk across the stage and receive their diplomas, maintaining safe physical distances. Face masks will be required of all participants when not in their cars.  Speeches and performances will occur live. 

The ceremony will be broadcast live by WMPG, the University of Southern Maine’s community radio station, located at  90.9 FM. The ceremonies will also be filmed and professionally photographed, and video and photographs will be available to students and families.

The Portland Public Schools usually hold commencement exercises early in June. Portland and Casco Bay high schools typically hold their ceremonies at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium. Deering’s commencement is often at the Cross Insurance Arena but also was planned for Merrill this year. Public health and safety concerns around the pandemic have changed all that for the Class of 2020.

Earlier this spring, the district surveyed high school seniors, who indicated overwhelmingly that they preferred in-person graduation to a virtual one. The first week of August was chosen as the time frame. That creates the opportunity to gather and celebrate prior to students leaving for college and careers in late August.

The Maine Department of Education (MDOE) has left decisions around graduation ceremonies to the discretion of local school districts. However, they still must be conducted in accordance with Gov. Janet Mills’ “Stay Safer at Home Orders.” MDOE also cautions that, due to the dynamic nature of the pandemic, the state’s regulations and recommendations are subject to change.

Each school will be communicating further details, expectations and guidelines in advance of the ceremonies to students and families to ensure understanding and compliance.

“I know how deeply disappointing it is for our seniors not to be able to celebrate their graduation in the traditional way at this time,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “I am very proud of the Class of 2020, however, for working creatively with staff to come up with this alternative commencement. I encourage all of our graduates to continue to work together as a class to follow the safety precautions around these events and ensure that everyone is able to receive their well-earned diplomas in a way that is both joyful and safe.”

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with 6,750 students this year, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students – 35 percent – come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 60 languages. About 53 percent of the district’s students are white and 47 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced school lunch.