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Ottawa public school board proposes allowing students without passing grades to participate in graduation

A proposed change to the graduation ceremony policy of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) would see the board switch to equity-based commencement ceremonies and allow for students without passing grades to participate.

Under the proposed changes to Policy P.038.SCO Graduation and Commencement Ceremonies and Awards, the board would be changing the policy’s language to phase out graduation ceremonies in favour of commencement ceremonies.

“The main difference between a commencement ceremony and a graduation ceremony is that a commencement ceremony is more inclusive,” the OCDSB in a statement on its website. “This aligns with the Board’s larger commitments to equity, inclusion, and diversity.”

The board is inviting feedback from the public using an online form between Feb. 2 and March 29. 

The ceremonies are said to encompass all students, including those who have historically faced challenges within the education system.

The proposed policy says certain students may not be graduating with the class for various reasons, but that it should not ‘preclude’ them from celebrating their milestones along with their peers.

In addition, student graduation awards, including trophies, medals and other prizes traditionally given at graduation ceremonies would be phased out in favour of achievements, to include a wide variety of student experiences and talent, without being strictly academic. The policy would also remove gender-based distinctions from achievements.

The national anthem will still be played at ceremonies in addition to a land acknowledgement, according to the policy.

The board’s graduation policy has been in place since 1998. The proposal is said to reflect the OCDSB’s 2023-27 Strategic Plan, which seeks to revise practices at both the school and system level which disadvantage diverse students.

“Students’ educational journeys are diverse, this means that all students’ experiences ought to have the opportunity to be celebrated with their teachers, peers, families, and friends in attendance,” said a report presented to the board’s Ad Hoc Review Committee meeting in February.

The policy will be discussed at the board’s next Ad Hoc Policy Review Committee meeting on April 4.

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