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 Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at