Moree Secondary College students thrilled year 12 formal ban has been lifted

THRILLED: Some of the year 12 cohort from Moree Secondary College, who are excited to be able to celebrate the end of their schooling and graduation.
THRILLED: Some of the year 12 cohort from Moree Secondary College, who are excited to be able to celebrate the end of their schooling and graduation.

They were devastated when they were told that they might not be able to celebrate the end of their schooling, but now Moree Secondary College's class of 2020 have something to look forward to, with the NSW government lifting the ban on school formals and graduation ceremonies.

"I think everyone was so excited," MSC year 12 student Elka Devney said.

"These last few weeks when formals were cancelled, my cohort's whole mentality had dropped.

"We had nothing to look forward to besides HSC exams.

"Now we have something to look forward to and celebrate."

Last week NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that year 12 formals and graduation ceremonies would be able to go ahead in term four after the HSC exams have finished under COVID-safe restrictions, following a huge backlash to the ban that was introduced last month.

Ms Devney said the news was very welcome for her and her classmates, who have had a particularly tough year trying to navigate the HSC in a COVID world.

"To some, [formals and graduations] might not be important, but after the year we've had, it's nice to look forward to that last hoorah," she said.

"It has been so hard. When we went into virtual learning during lockdown, a lot of students didn't have viable internet access - I know I didn't. So I was coming in every day and was sometimes the only student here.

"But the support of our teachers and year adviser has been amazing. Mr Auld was calling us daily to not only see how we were going with our work but checking in on our mental health. Without that, I don't think we'd be here today.

"It has really brought us closer as a year group, so graduation and formal is a bit more special. At the end of exams, we might not see each other again until our reunion, so having these last moments together is really important."

School principals were issued with a set of guidelines for year 12 formals and graduation ceremonies on Friday, and while mingling is out, dancing is in, if it's outside and with someone you "have an established relationship with".

Under the guidelines announced by NSW Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell, mingling before and after events should be avoided, private transport options considered and existing restrictions on catering adhered to.

Schools will also be asked to reduce mingling and attendance where possible, set up dancefloors outside or in well-ventilated areas, restrict tables to 10 people and ensure capacity does not exceed the one person per four square metres ratio.

Students should bring their own pens to sign yearbooks and follow good hand hygiene practices.

Following the release of the guidelines, Ms Devney was one of a select number of students invited to take part in a Zoom call with the Department of Education to vocalise their thoughts and opinions about what they would like to see happen with formals and graduation ceremonies.

"We were able to clarify the guidelines and I could be a voice for rural areas," Ms Devney said.

"We haven't had any COVID cases here and for our school, the issue is finding a place that can accommodate our formal under COVID safe guidelines in our small community.

"It was also interesting hearing what other schools are doing and thinking, 'wow, our school's doing so much with listening to our voice'."

Moree Secondary College is yet to set a date for its year 12 formal or graduation ceremony, but year 12 adviser Jason Auld said the school is hoping to make a decision this week.

"If the school organises it, parents can't attend, but if parents organise it, staff can't attend," he said.

"We're hoping to find the best medium for year 12 and our school.

"For every year 12 student, it's a right of passage."

The school has been in consultation with students, staff and parents and has sent out surveys to gain feedback on what to do with the formal and graduation ceremony.

While understanding the importance of formal and the presentation assembly, deputy principal Belinda Bagshaw said the school's focus is on getting the students through the HSC and supporting their individual learning achievements.

"We'll be making decisions based on the best interests of our students," she said.

"Even though we've received this last set of guidelines, we want to let our students and parents decide and give them a voice. We're waiting on that feedback.

"We want to be respectful to the individual needs of students and parents."