After San Diego County sent a cease and desist letter ordering Coronado High School to halt its in-person graduation celebration due to safety concerns, hundreds of students and parents worked to organize an impromptu ceremony in a city park.
The school had planned an in-person commencement ceremony on its football field for the Class of 2020 Thursday night. The plan came complete with the usual guidelines -- social distancing, guest capacity, mandated facial coverings, restricted bathroom access and prohibitions for symptomatic people and recent foreign travelers -- but the county said the non-essential event violated public health orders.
“The state COVID-19 industry guidance applicable to schools states that non-essential visitors, volunteers and activities should be limited,” the county said in a letter to the high school. “At this time, in-person graduation and in-person promotion ceremonies are not authorized gatherings.”
County spokesperson Michael Workman said the school district submitted a plan for consideration last week and it was denied because it did not abide by public health guidelines.
In a phone call with district officials on Wednesday, the district said they intended to proceed anyway, so the county ordered a cease and desist, Workman said.
Seniors still got their in-person ceremony Thursday, it was just off-campus and organized by defiant parents and students instead.
Parent Maria Simon said hundreds worked to make the impromptu graduation happen. Simon said she would have understood the county’s decision if Coronado High School was in one of the bigger school districts.
'This is what our community wanted.. and our kids... like I said, they wanted to be together," she said.
And as for the graduates, some said they felt safe attending the ceremony despite little social distancing and many choosing to not wear masks.
Mona Hacker said she didn’t want the graduates to miss out on a traditional milestone moment.
"It’s a tricky situation," Hacker said. "You gotta look at risk and benefits… I think in this situation this one celebration outdoors with the precautions that were taken is OK for these young kids."
NBC 7 has reached out to the Coronado Police Department and the county for statements regarding the ceremony and hasn't heard back.
When asked for a statement, Mayor Richard Bailey said only "Congratulations to the class of 2020.”
Senior Lisette Puebla felt deflated when the cancellation news came, but she still got her hair done.
“It was kinda like a little glimmer of hope and then it was just taken away," Puebla said.
Puebla said she and her classmates are mature enough to know that the cancellation isn't the end of the world, but did admit it was another dip on the emotional roller coaster ride caused by the pandemic over the last four months.
"We had those expectations of having prom and grad night and everything and then having those taken away and thinking we wouldn’t be doing anything at all to maybe being able to do something, and then nothing again," she explained.
The cancellation felt like a bigger blow to senior Lilly Grimes, who was on the graduation ceremony planning committee.
"It's really upsetting. We’ve been working really, really, really hard for the past three months on just trying to make a graduation that fits the preferences of parents, students, the community, the city," Grimes said.
County health officials stated Coronado High School was welcomed to host a drive-thru graduation ceremony like other area schools have done.