La Cañada High finds new ways to salute grads as closures extend through school year

La Cañada High School Principal Jim Cartnal
LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal holds a sign being given to all seniors to display in their yards, part of a series of stand-in celebrations for traditional senior year activities canceled during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Sara Cardine)

Hopes for a 2020 senior prom and June commencement ceremony were dashed Tuesday, when La Cañada Unified Governing Board members voted to extend the closure of school campuses through the remainder of the academic year.

The board agreed in a special meeting resuming brick-and-mortar learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when the number of confirmed cases in La Cañada Flintridge and surrounding communities continue to rise, would be too risky.

“We have to be mindful of our obligation to protect student and staff safety and well-being,” said Board Vice President Ellen Multari. “I just don’t think we have the risk mitigation factors in place.”

LCUSD officials reacted with joy and sorrow Tuesday as school campus closures were extended through 2019-20 and alternatives to senior prom and graduation were discussed.
(Sara Cardine)

LCUSD was among a few L.A. County districts holding out hope for a reopening, after county and state school officials intimated in late March such a return was not likely to occur as long as a statewide shelter-in-place order remained in effect.

Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested Tuesday he would not allow local officials to take any action to loosen restrictions instituted more than a month ago to help flatten the curve of coronavirus infection rates.

Extending school closures means La Cañada High School senior celebrations, including prom, graduation and a host of parties, farewell performances and award ceremonies, are effectively canceled.

Instead, school administrators, parents and community members are organizing a series of alternative recognition events for the Class of 2020. LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal outlined a robust plan Tuesday.

LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal passes out Class of 2020 yard signs Wednesday as part of an effort to salute graduating seniors now that La Cañada campuses are closed through the academic year.
LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal passes out Class of 2020 yard signs Wednesday as part of an effort to salute graduating seniors now that La Cañada campuses are closed through the academic year.
(Sara Cardine)

Seniors are collecting celebratory graduation signs to display at their homes and are encouraged to email photographs with the signs to for inclusion in a video montage that will be shown in late May.

Also in late May, students will observe social-distancing and facial-covering rules as they pick up graduation caps and gowns to wear in a June 3 Senior Salute parade, during which groups of 50 cars at a time will proceed east on Foothill Boulevard to LCHS.

“We want the whole town to be out on their steps banging pots and playing music, because these are all our seniors,” Cartnal said Wednesday.

La Cañada High will make three attempts to stage an in-person graduation ceremony, with a prom the day prior. The first attempt would have seniors taking the stage on July 31, with prom held July 30.

If shelter-in-place restrictions exceed that date, a second attempt will be made on Nov. 24, while a third possible date could be planned for Dec. 22. The dates match up to colleges’ holiday breaks, although it’s unclear whether physical universities and colleges plan to reopen for fall semester.

“You are not forgotten, Spartans,” Cartnal said. “We are going to stick through this to the very end, because we care about you.”

Board member Kaitzer Puglia said the Class of 2020 would not soon forget this unusual time.

“These students will be part of history,” she said.

Also Tuesday, board members revisited the district’s coronavirus response and provided an update on distance learning since grading began April 14. Some parents expressed frustration in emailed public comments at what they described as teachers not providing enough face-to-face instruction and regular communication with students and families.

LCUSD Supt. Wendy Sinnette respectfully disagreed, saying administrators check in regularly with instructors. She urged parents to calmly address issues and expectations directly with teachers and escalate still-unresolved matters to administrators.

“The learning is happening — our kids will not be left behind,” the superintendent assured. “This is a new environment, and we will get better, and we will improve. But what I’m seeing is high quality, and I’m very proud of it.”

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.