Sunrise Mountain High

Unlike last year, when Sunrise Mountain High’s 2019 grads tossed caps in the air, this year’s Peoria Unifed graduates will not be celebrating with a big ceremony. 

There will be no tearful speeches, no hearty handshakes and congratulatory hugs, no flying caps this year for Peoria Unified School District seniors.

“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the cancellation of our graduation ceremonies that were rescheduled to take place June 25, 26 and 27,” said a letter from David Sandoval, the PUSD board president, and Linda Palles Thompson, the PUSD superintendent, to graduates and their families.

 “Given the increase in COVID-19 cases, we have determined it is not in the best interest of our students, staff, parents and community to proceed with these events,” said the June 15 letter.

According to Danielle Airey, a PUSD spokeswoman, “Our leadership team made the decision after input from the board, parents and the guidance from the Arizona Department of Health Services.”

The state advised against large ceremonies, the letter noted.

“ADHS has released guidance recommending that mass events, specifically graduations, do not take place at this time. We received this guidance at the beginning of June but were hopeful that our state would begin to see a decline in cases. As recently as this morning, we reached out to the county again to see if the guidance had changed and unfortunately, it has not,” said the letter.

The notice was also signed by Jason Reynolds, the deputy superintendent who will become superintendent when Thompson retires next month, and the eight PUSD high school principals.

“Safety has always been our first priority and we do not feel we can in good conscience proceed with an event that may jeopardize the health and well-being of our graduates, families and staff,” the letter said. 

“We are devastated that we will not be able to celebrate our graduates for their achievements in the way we had originally planned and in the way that they deserve. We will remember the Class of 2020 fondly, and we know that they will continue to impact the world with a legacy beyond our current pandemic.”

The letter came four days after Reynolds updated the PUSD governing board at its June 11 meeting. 

Reynolds told the board PUSD graduations at State Farm Stadium were still tentatively scheduled, with strict social-distancing to be practiced.

At the meeting, board member Monica Ceja Martinez expressed her concerns.

“I know that the celebration is just as much for the students as for the parents, but with me, safety is the No. 1 priority. 

“And I would encourage that any decision that you lean on, you lean on with safety,” Martinez advised Reynolds.

Mountain Ridge High school in the Deer Valley Unified School District has graduation scheduled for 3:30 p.m. July 2.

Erin Brassey contributed to this story.