Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 12:59 am | Fair 60º


Santa Maria HIgh School District Declines To Reschedule Graduations

Students ask board to reconsider simultaneous ceremonies, but superintendent says no one contacted him directly about concerns

Students and families were unsuccessful in asking the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District board of trustees to reconsider holding graduation ceremonies at the three main campuses at the same time.
Students and families were unsuccessful in asking the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District board of trustees to reconsider holding graduation ceremonies at the three main campuses at the same time. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Despite pleas for reconsideration, Santa Maria Joint Union High School District leaders said today’s environment means graduation ceremonies at three campuses must be held simultaneously.

In their comments, district officials and board members apparently rejected a student-led request to at least place the item on the agenda for further discussion at a future meeting.

Students launched an online petition because the district plans, for the second year, to hold commencements for Santa Maria, Pioneer Valley and Righetti high schools at the same time on the same day, 1 p.m. June 9.

“Opinions of students, nor teachers, nor parents were considered when this decision was made,” said student Carla Mendoza, one of several students who spoke Tuesday night to ask the board to reconsider so they can attend friends’ graduations at other campuses

“As students we demand that the board places this topic on the agenda for the next meeting so that we can have a dialogue, a dialogue between students and the board, a dialogue between teachers and the board, a dialogue between parents and the board,” Mendoza said.

Families also sought a change. Patricia Solorio, director of Central Coast Future Leaders, told  the board her son is a Pioneer Valley senior while a niece is set to graduate from Righetti this year.

“As you can imagine, my mom is placed in a very uncomfortable position of having to choose which graduation she’s going to attend,” Solorio said, adding multiple families in the district will be placed in that same position.

“I just want to urge you to reconsider, maybe open a dialogue, so we can understand why this decision was made,” Solorio said, adding that she typically attended all three graduation ceremonies but last year could only attend one.

Another mother spoke up and shared that her family has a similar conflict.

She noted “it took guts” for students to make their voices heard.

“Let’s hear them,” she said. “It’s their graduation.”

But an epidemic of violence in Santa Maria in recent months — leading to deaths of three 17-year-olds and a 15-year-old —makes the matter more complicated, district officials told the audience at Tuesday meeting.

Board president Jack Garvin said it involves negotiations, calendars and “also unfortunately it involves what’s been going on in this community the last couple weeks.”

After attending several meetings in recent weeks, “I have never ever in 40 years I have lived here seen an agitated community like it is right now.,” Garvin said. “I’ll just tell you frankly I’m going to keep you as safe as I can.”

Superintendent Mark Richardson agreed.

“It saddens me that the time we live in we have to think about things like terrorist bombings, and school shootings and gang violence in our street,” Richardson said. “I didn’t have worry about that when I was in high school, but those are things we have to worry about today.”

Today’s high schoolers have to deal with active-shooter drills, perimeter fencing on campuses and identification cards.

“I wrestled with this decision,” he said. “But the reality is the violence is here. You know it. I know it. Our students know it.

“I’m not trying to be an alarmist in this situation,” he said, adding he is a parent who had to wait to hear whether his children were safe following a school shooting.

“It saddens me that these things have become such a large part of our consideration and our decision-making process. Believe me, I’d like not to have to consider it at all,” Richardson said. “We don’t want to make decisions that cause consternation and unrest.”

He added he didn’t want to disappoint students. 

“But I cannot turn a blind eye to the potential for violence and hope it goes away,” Richardson said. “As I tell my staff all the time, hope is not a strategy. But making decisions that reduce risk for our kids is. And I believe in that.”

He said students or parents with concerns should reach out to him to start a dialogue — “not with a petition online.”

Board member Dr. Carol Karamitsos added that the decision to hold simultaneous ceremonies is not aimed at making it convenient for district officials. 

Earlier in the meeting, County Schools Superintendent William Cirone administered the oath of office to new board member Amy Lopez.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >