When Deb Rushing’s Shawnee Mission North senior heard Gov. Laura Kelly’s decision to close in-person schooling for the remainder of the academic year, she told her mom she’d had her last day of high school and didn’t even know it.
Following the governor’s decision, Shawnee Mission School District seniors expressed their heartbreak over the loss of traditional high school milestones such as prom and graduation. In an effort to give the Class of 2020 some of those milestone experiences, Rushing started a petition calling on the district to reschedule — not cancel — this year’s graduation and prom.
“I and a lot of other senior parents that I’ve talked to, we all agree that this is something they need to kind of get that closure for their high school experience and be able to go on to the next phase of life,” Rushing said.
Rushing said there are many things that can’t be replaced as a result of the governor’s order, such as senior nights, sports seasons and seniors’ final classes. Prom and graduation, however, are two experiences that were the culmination of high school, she said.
The petition asks that these events be rescheduled when it is safe to do so, perhaps sometime late in the summer, Rushing said. It would give seniors, who may have an added layer of stress during the pandemic, a sense of emotional catharsis to have prom and graduation reinstated, she said.
“It’s going to be way more meaningful for [the Class of 2020] to be able to still have this than it was for the rest of us for high school graduation, just because of the time we’re all going through,” Rushing said. “Not only will it be cathartic for the seniors, it will be cathartic for everyone in attendance.”
Rushing said she has not yet informed the Shawnee Mission School District of the petition as the district’s plate is currently full with navigating digital learning and providing meals to children. She said she wanted to start the petition in order for it to gain momentum, and that once the district has the time to consider it, the signatures can serve as seniors’ and their parents’ voice.
Shawnee Mission Chief Communications Officer David Smith said the district has spent the last week developing the district’s continuous learning plan for students amid COVID-19. Smith said the district has not yet had the time to consider all of the end-of-year impacts caused by the pandemic, but that the district knows it has to think about these impacts, specifically graduation.
“I think we’ll look at all options for how we mark this incredibly important time in the life of a high school senior,” Smith said. “We’ll put everything on the table and sort of work collaboratively with our community to figure out how we celebrate our high school seniors and their accomplishments — I just, at this point, don’t have any idea what that will look like.”
The petition, which went live on Change.org on Friday, March 27, reached more 2,000 signatures on Tuesday, March 31. Once it hits the 2,500 signature goal, Rushing said she intends to let the petition continue to grow to as many as 5,000 signatures, and present it to the district at an appropriate time.
[We can say,] ‘this is our voice as Shawnee Mission parents, as students, as educators,’ that we want to see these things happen,” Rushing said. “If you read the comments on the petition, you hear ‘this is for my grandson,’ ‘this is for my niece,’ this is for my neighbor’s son.’ It’s not just seniors and parents of seniors who are signing it — it’s people in the community that are invested in the Class of 2020 and want to see things happen for them.”