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Petition calls for CG high schools to hold graduation ceremonies

CASA GRANDE — The idea of a virtual graduation ceremony isn’t sitting well with some Casa Grande parents and students.

More than 900 people have signed an online petition set up by parent Lisa Calderon, who wants to make sure that this year’s class has as close to a normal graduation ceremony as possible.

She said that when her son showed her a letter from the Casa Grande Union High School District describing the virtual graduation ceremony, he said the idea was “ridiculous.” What was the point of doing all the school work during the shutdown if they weren’t going to be able to celebrate it, he told her.

The district’s virtual graduation plan calls for a livestream event on YouTube for each school in mid-June. Speeches from the schools’ valedictorians and salutatorians would be recorded ahead of time and added to the stream. As each graduating student’s name was read out, a slide with their name, plans for after graduation, honors and a brief quote from the student would appear online in the stream. The event is to be recorded and posted to each school’s website.

In an email, CGUSD Superintendent Steve Bebee stated that he understands that many people in the community are upset and frustrated that the district is unable to hold a traditional graduation ceremony for students this year. The district is required to follow local, state and federal social distancing guidelines. The district board is supposed to take up the topic of the graduation ceremony at its regular meeting on Tuesday, which will be livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel.

“For some kids this is the only graduation they will get,” Calderon said. Some students don’t plan or want to go to college.

If people can walk into a store like Walmart with a large group of other people and practice social distancing, people can certainly do it for a graduation ceremony, she said.

Calderon even has a plan on how to make an in-person graduation possible.

Calerdon said a number of parents and students who have signed her online petition have also commented on how upset and disappointed they are in the idea of holding a virtual graduation.

Linda Castano said in a phone call that her daughter was very disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to walk with her class. Her daughter has worked very hard for the last two years to bring up her grades and gave up her junior prom to make sure she could graduate with her classmates, she said. Her daughter plans to attend Central Arizona College first and wants to study at the University of Arizona to become a veterinarian.

Castano is not impressed with the virtual graduation the district is offering.

“I understand we’re in a crazy situation with COVID-19 but they still deserve to walk with their class, as long as it’s in a safe way,” Castano said.

She said she’d even be willing to wear a mask, although she’s a bit claustrophobic, just to watch her daughter walk.

“I don’t like it at all,” Vicky Moon, another mother of a graduating senior, said over the phone.

She’s been trying to comfort her daughter, who has been crying off and on over the last few days and is disappointed that she won’t be able to walk across the stage as her older sister did last year. She’s not even sure if she’ll be able to have a graduation party with friends.

Her daughter plans to take a couple years of classes at CAC before transferring to Arizona State University to become a first grade teacher.

She said the family and her daughter were completely stunned by the school district’s decision to go with a virtual graduation.

“There are so many other options,” Moon said.

She pointed to the graduation plans for midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. According to Navy Times, the academy will commission its class of midshipmen over a 10-day period in five groups of 210 students with a half day to sanitize between each group. The entire event was recorded and will be livestreamed on May 22.

The U.S. Air Force Academy graduated its class of 1,000 cadets a month early on April 18, with cadets wearing face masks and marching in formation 6 feet apart.

Even just allowing the students to walk across the stage without an audience would be preferable to Moon.

Calderon has her own plan for a graduation ceremony. She suggested that the district still hold graduation ceremonies outside on the two high school football fields with some exceptions. Under her plan, everyone who attended the event would have to wear a mask. Students would be seated 6 feet apart on the field. No hugging, shaking hands, etc. would be allowed during the ceremony. Students would have the opportunity to take a few quick photos with classmates at the end.

The district could control how many people could attend the event by limiting the number of tickets to families by the number of seats available under Calderon’s plan. Families would be seated in the bleachers in groups with 6 feet of space between each group. Every other row of the bleachers would be left empty. Families would be dismissed at the end of the event by row.

“People understand now,” she said, referring to the need for social distancing to keep people healthy and avoid the spread of COVID-19. “We can be responsible adults.”

Calderon said she contacted the district and was told that it was following Arizona Department of Education social distancing requirements. She contacted the Department of Education and was told that the department was leaving to school districts and district boards a decision on how best to safely hold graduation ceremonies. The department suggested sending her plan to the district, which she has. She’s waiting for a reply.

Another plan has been floated by a member of the public to the mayor of Casa Grande. That plan would have students and families attend the graduation ceremony in their cars. The cars would be lined up in alphabetical order of the students graduating. When the student’s name was called, their car would drive up to a stage, the student would get out and walk across the stage to receive their diploma and then get back in the car. Families and friends could honk their horns and yell in support. The event would be livestreamed and recorded for those who could not attend.

Papers filed to begin recall effort against Ducey

PHOENIX — Calling him a “tyrant” who has violated his oath of office, a Gilbert resident who has been helping to organize protests at the Capitol against the COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Gov. Doug Ducey is now seeking to oust him from office.

Legal papers filed Friday with the secretary of state’s office contend that the governor’s executive orders are unconstitutional. So Marko Trickovic wants to force a special election to give them a chance to not only remove him before his term ends at the end of 2022 but also to give voters a chance to select someone else.

The burden is substantial: He and allies need 594,111 signatures by Aug. 29 to force an election. But given the normal disqualification rate on petitions, the more realistic goal could be closer to 750,000.

Trickovic, chair of what he is calling Arizonans for Liberty, acknowledged the hurdle. But he said there are enough people who are angry with the governor for shutting down the state’s economy in the name of fighting the virus and for doing it in an illegal way.

And Trickovic figures that if he can find 200 people each collecting at least 30 signatures a day he should be able to force an election.

There already has been some sentiment building against the governor over both his stay-at-home order and his directive that only “essential” businesses can remain open.

But feelings may have only become more inflamed when Ducey announced Wednesday he would not let the first order expire as scheduled this past week. And while he said he would allow some businesses to reopen, other prohibitions remain, ranging from bars to personal services like barbers and hair salons.

The governor may also have further inflamed feelings with his comments aimed at business owners who had threatened to ignore his orders and open their doors anyway.

“This is an order that is enforceable by law,” he said. “A violation is a $2,500 fine and up to six months in jail.”

Trickovic said people were paying attention.

“He literally declared war on the citizens of Arizona,” he said. “The fact that he came out and said he would jail people for trying to earn a living and feed people, that’s a tyrant.”

There was no immediate response from the governor’s office.

Trickovic acknowledged that if Ducey has acted in an unconstitutional fashion there is another potential remedy: have someone affected by the orders file suit and ask a court to void the executive orders. But he said the issue goes beyond the legal violations.

“He has violated his oath of office,” Trickovic said. “He doesn’t deserve to sit where he’s sitting.”

While recalls are difficult, they are not impossible.

Under the Arizona Constitution, it takes the signatures equivalent to 25% of those who voted for all candidates in the last gubernatorial election.

Foes of Gov. Evan Mecham gathered enough signatures to force an election. But it never got that far as the Legislature impeached him and removed him from office.

In 2011 those seeking the ouster of Senate President Russell Pearce submitted more than 18,300 signatures to force an election; they needed just 7,756 to be valid. Voters in his Mesa legislative district turned him out in favor of fellow Republican Jerry Lewis.

How deep and wide is the resentment of Ducey has yet to be shown.

A survey done for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry asked what people thought of the governor’s approach to dealing with the virus. It found that even among Republicans only 12% thought he had gone too far, with 73% vsaid his approach is “about right.”

But there is resentment within elements of his own party.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said her decision on whether to sign the petition will depend on what Ducey does between now and this coming Friday.

“If the governor backpedals on his ill-advised plan and lets people go back and feed their families ... then I’m good,” she said.

“If the governor continues to keep his boot on the neck of the people of Arizona, then absolutely,” Townsend said of signing the petition. “Top of the page.”

Trickovic said the reason there may not be more support at this point for a recall is that people are not getting the facts.

He said many of the more than 60,000 deaths nationally being attributed to COVID-19 were actually from other causes like pneumonia and other complications, people he said who had pre-existing conditions.

“These are the same people that were at risk of dying of a cold or the flu,” Trickovic said. “However, the media and government agencies that have lied to the people have gone out there and made this thing look like Ebola.”

Trickovic, a real estate agent, said this isn’t partisan, saying he is a Republican precinct committeeman. But he acknowledged that, even if the drive doesn’t succeed in recalling the governor, he would be happy if it damaged Ducey politically.

“If anything, we will expose who Doug Ducey is,” Trickovic said. “And, if anything, that’s going to hurt his chances of potentially running for a Senate seat in two years, like he thinks he’s going to do, or possibly for vice president.”