An email sent to students and parents of graduating seniors at the Charter School of Wilmington late on Wednesday night has ignited a firestorm of responses on social media and the withdrawl of an offer of thousands of dollars by the Parent Teacher School Organization (PTSO) to the school.
And today, just three weeks before the scheduled commencement, parents have taken graduation plans into their own hands, hoping to salvage the goal of students whose sole goal was to graduate together as one class.
The message to seniors, parents and guardians on July 8th stated that prom and Senior Sunset Picnic are canceled and that the school would be shifting to a “virtual graduation for the class of 2020” with individual, scheduled tapings to take place on July 27th in the Cab Calloway Theatre. An assembled video would be shown on YouTube and Facebook on July 31.
The letter also stated, “There can be no congregating of the graduates and their families on campus after they receive the diplomas.”
While the letter appeared to be written by the “CSW Graduation Committee and Administration,” parents on the graduation committee who spoke to TSD said they were never consulted about the virtual plan.
The PTSO quickly responded to school administrators, stating in an email the following day, “It was stated in the e-mail last night that the Administration and Graduation Committee made a tough decision. [Three members of the PSTO] were all on the graduation committee, yet we have not had any updates, nor met for weeks. We were not included in the development of the new plans, and yesterday’s communication reads as though we were engaged and endorsed the approach.”
Part of the frustration with the letter stemmed from the fact that the final decision did not reflect the results of a graduation survey of seniors and their parents. The survey included four options: a virtual graduation, an in-person commencement without parents, a mention at Homecoming in the fall, and graduating next year after the class of 2021.
According to some parents, the majority of students replied that they wanted to graduate as a class. “Their message was, ‘we want to be together, one last time, and we want to walk as a class,'” said one senior parent.
Because of the size of the class and limits on large gatherings, parents under this scenario would be required to watch the graduation via Livestream. “You know, I’m fine with that because these kids haven’t been together for all these months. If they want to walk, let them walk,” said the parent.
A parent of one graduating senior told TSD, “I was livid, to say the least. It was totally handled and appropriately. I fired off an email to the principal of the school Wednesday night telling him that this was completely unacceptable — that we had been misled that he was not following through on anything that he had promised us. And quite frankly, all of us felt like he had never intended to follow through with what he told us.”
With 248 students in the graduating class, students could have graduated together, with two members of the administration distributing diplomas while satisfying the state’s Covid group gathering limit of 250 people. If the school had applied for a waiver, 500 people could attend the event.
According to graduation planners we spoke to today, no request was ever made for a waiver to accommodate one parent or guardian for each child at graduation.
For weeks prior to the school’s announcement, Graduation Committee members and PTSO members had worked on plans for an in-person graduation at the 76ers Fieldhouse or on the football field at CSW.
In a message to all current CSW parents and families of incoming freshmen on June 26, the school asked for contributions to “Urgent PPE Needs and our Budget” as well as “graduation expenses,” to which many parents of graduating seniors contributed as did the PTSO, which offered $7,500.
But after events this week, some parents have asked for their money back, and the PTSO has withdrawn their gift. “I actually made a donation to the school, and I asked for my money back. I was that pissed off,” said one parent.
In a letter from the PSTO Board sent to the CSW Administration delivered on July 9th and obtained by Town Square Delaware, the authors stated, “When the donation request email was sent on 6/26, the PTSO immediately stepped up to donate $7,500 for graduation. This was done so in good faith, as it was assumed monies were needed to help defray the cost of the Fieldhouse due to limited guests. The Fieldhouse with limited guests was something students and parents agreed to. Since those plans changed without our feedback/involvement, and we no longer will be having an in-person graduation, we withdraw our donation offer.”
The PTSO letter went on to say, “CSW Administration has now lost a lot of credibility with the entire class of 2020 and their parents. This will cause a ripple effect with 2020 parents who still have children at CSW; parents will become less engaged… Last night’s e-mail communication was a huge loss of trust and future support.”
Parents have taken to writing their concerns on the Parent 2020 Facebook page. “If you saw some of the posts on the class 2020 parent Facebook page, your jaw would hit the floor. People are outraged. This is a nationally-ranked high school, right here in Delaware, and this is how they’re treating their students and their families,” said one parent.
Another parent told TSD, “I’m a parent who thinks the school gave up and didn’t pursue all the options. They, really the President, took the easiest way out, didn’t explain the Department of Education guidelines, and never really planned to do much. And he did not collaborate with the graduation committee or take the student feedback. He did this on his own.”
Parents we spoke to were vocal about their concerns but asked to remain anonymous because many have children who will attend the school next year.
While many vented their disappointment on Facebook, others began to focus on finding a new way to celebrate their seniors. “There were a couple of us that were much more like, ‘This is ridiculous. What can we do? What are our options? Let’s just do it ourselves,’” said one parent.
And that’s what they have done.
After reading the firestorm of parent remarks and receiving emails from parents and the PTSO Board, the school responded by giving the entire graduation planning process back to the Graduation Committee.
They now have three weeks to pull it off.
A new email to CSW 2020 families today sent to by the school on behalf of the PTSO stated, “We have received your feedback through multiple sources about the 2020 graduation, and have decided to revert back to the original plan of a “Student-only” in-person graduation that will be held outside on 7/31 at the CSW football field. Parents can watch via a live stream event, but will not be allowed on school grounds.
“The PTSO will be taking over the coordination of the event. Please join their meeting on Friday, July 10th at 5 pm.”
Students and parents participated on the Friday call and came out with a path forward. And they have reached out to school administrators to ask for their support.
“This is an example of how just when you think things are going badly, the power of brainstorming can yield positive results,” said one parent on the call.