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Amid parent concerns, Portland Public Schools clarifies “drive-thru” graduation policies

Posted by on June 4th, 2020 at 9:21 am

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Grant High School flyer.

As local high schools wrap-up the year, administrators are grappling with how to host graduation ceremonies and take care of other school business in a time when physical distancing requirements are still in place.

Local public schools need to do things like allow families to pick-up locker contents, yearbooks, band instruments, and diplomas. As announcements for these activities have gone out we’ve heard from several people who were concerned that Portland Public Schools explicitly required families to only show up in cars at these “Drive-Thru” events.

A flyer distributed by Grant High School on Monday June 1st included a list of guidelines for an event that stated: “One vehicle per graduate. Graduates will exit car only for their professional photograph… Graduate will receive Grad Bag and Diploma via window delivery in parking lot. All members of the family must remain in the car at all times.”

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“After talking with a few principals the takeaway was, we don’t want to exclude and we want to be as safe as possible. So both car traffic and foot traffic will be accommodated.”
— Karen Wernstein, Portland Public Schools

Bill Cunningham, father of a Grant High student cc’d BikePortland in an email to administrators that read, “We were surprised and very much disappointed that it appears to require access by car for what should be a capstone event for all seniors, regardless of how they and their families get around.” Cunningham went on to say he understands Covid-19 concerns but that there are ways to host distribution events safely while not requiring people to show up only in cars. If the graduation event only allows car users, he said, it would have a negative environmental impact, would not be equitable to families without access to one, and would cause significant traffic jams.

Also on Monday, a Cleveland High School parent shared on Twitter they too had received PPS instructions that the a pick-up event would be only open for car users. “What about students who don’t have access to a vehicle because the adult driver is working? Who arrive via bus? Or on foot? There are students out there who will not be able to meet this mandatory requirement and there is no plan to accommodate that,” the woman wrote.

The Oregon Department of Education published guidelines on May 5th that states, “Any recognition, celebration or ceremony must be accessible to every student and family.”

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When PPS handed out Chromebooks back in April, cars idled in very long lines that clogged neighborhood streets.

Map from Cleveland High School.

Reached on the phone yesterday, PPS Public Information Officer Karen Wernstein assured us people are allowed to walk (or walk with bikes) to receive diplomas and other belongings at these events. While some schools didn’t explicitly state this in their initial announcements, they have now amended them after hearing community concerns.

“Grant sent a follow-up today to let their families know,” Wernstein said. “After talking with a few principals the takeaway was, we don’t want to exclude and we want to be as safe as possible. So both car traffic and foot traffic will be accommodated.”

A special addendum now posted to the Cleveland High School home page says, “Students CAN arrive at the Locker Pick-up by walking (you do not have to arrive by a vehicle).”

“We will provide additional information to clarify that we will support a family that might arrive without a car. We are not, however, encouraging families to that.”
— Carol Campbell, Grant High School principal

But Grant principal Carol Campbell told parent Bill Cunningham via email that they’ll stop short of recommending that option. “We will provide additional information to clarify that we will support a family that might arrive without a car,” Campbell wrote. “We are not, however, encouraging families to that.”

Cunningham is happy to see the walk-up language added to the plans, even if the response from administrators feels “somewhat grudging”. “I basically reject the notion that using cars is the only – or best – way of achieving physical distancing,” he shared. “I sure hope that moving further toward a car-oriented society will not be the way Portland achieves mobility and gathering in the wake of COVID.”

PPS wants everyone to know that while walk-ups are permitted, physical distancing and mask-wearing protocols must still be followed. They also need to balance state guidelines that no more than 24 people can be gathered (outside of cars) on school property at one time.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Chris I
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Chris I

Everyone knows that wearing a car is the best PPE when facing a pandemic.

I have a feeling these mass driving pickup events are going to be a mess. Yuck.

Let’s Active
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Let’s Active

I hope people biking and walking get to go to the front of the queue so they aren’t sucking down auto emissions.

Hello, Kitty
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Hello, Kitty

I understand how PPS got to where they got, but they could have easily designed a slightly different process that would not require a car at all. We’ve all seen plenty of examples of people safely queuing for all manner of items, out in the open air, without a vehicle. If it works for New Seasons, it will work for graduation.

Hello, Kitty
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Hello, Kitty

It would also be great if PPS asked those waiting in cars not to idle, which will make life better for everyone involved.

damiene
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damiene

As a Cleveland HS alum, I was always jealous at how much outdoor space Grant has directly attached to it – certainly more than enough to perform graduation activities at social distances without the need for cars.

“Back in my day, we had to walk blocks to get to our track! And it was uphill, both ways! The field itself had hills*!”

* No joke. The Cleveland’s field was pretty uneven before 2005 or so.

qqq
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qqq

Turning a graduation ceremony into a drive-thru event was a bizarre idea.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

Incredible that accommodating people arriving other than by car wasn’t included from the start. During this pandemic I have picked up to-go food as well as pet supplies by bike. Even though these venues are expecting people to show up by car, when I’m asked via web or text to say what kind of car I’m in, so they can bring out my order, I just say I’m on a bike. And it has never been a problem; even though it isn’t standard procedure, fully-functioning humans are intelligent enough to figure out how to handle it. If corporate behemoths like PetSmart can deal with the diversity of someone picking something up by bike, even when 99.9% of everyone else is using a car, I would think PPS can figure out how to handle non-car participants at a “non-car” event.

qqq
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qqq

This is making me wonder why they canceled track season, instead of doing it in cars. The distance event times would have been incredible.