ST. GEORGE — One of the long-awaited traditions for most American K-12 students is the high school graduation ceremony. This year will undoubtedly be memorable, as school dismissals and restrictions due to the coronavirus have caused a ripple effect of change.
After Gov. Gary Herbert announced the extension of soft closures until the end of the school year, and the state health department reported they are not anticipating to lift the restrictions on large group gatherings before June 30, the ability to hold a traditional ceremony, even if they waited until June, would not be possible.
Washington County School District communications director Steven Dunham told St. George News as of April 1, there were 2,276 high school seniors in the district and about 90-95% of them are expected to graduate. Coming up with the best plan to accommodate as many students as possible has been a top priority.
“We’ve been on phone calls with superintendents in our region and superintendents up north and the state superintended of schools who told us that the state health department told her that they do not anticipate lifting the restrictions on large group gatherings before June 30,” Dunham said. “What that means for us is that we could not have a traditional graduation ceremony, even if we waited until June.”
St. George News tried to contact the state health department to confirm this but had not heard back at the time of this report.
After much discussion, Dunham said the district has come up with three priorities in order to celebrate the high school class of 2020.
“As of right now, we are going to create a virtual graduation that will include the opportunity for students to walk through their respective school letter. We’ll be contacting them with an appointment time and instruct them when to come to the school wearing their cap and gown so we can videotape that.”
There will be an outline that will detail how the presentation will go and will include comments or a talk from student leadership or valedictorian, principal and a school board member. It would also include recorded performances from the band, orchestra and/or choir.
“We’ve been working with Dixie State University CECTV, and they’re helping us film and livestream this,” he said. “So during the time of the student’s graduation, it will be livestreamed on television, which is free for the graduating senior and his or her family to watch together in the comfort of their home and a digital copy will be provided to each graduate.”
The second priority is that as soon as schools are allowed to have students return, which they anticipate would be July or August, senior graduates may be invited back for a recognition ceremony and photo opportunity at their schools.
And finally, the third priority is that in the case that restrictions are lifted early, and people are allowed to gather in groups in June, “we will forgo the virtual graduation and immediately plan a traditional ceremony to be held at each high school’s football field,” he said.
Right now, they have to plan for the virtual ceremony because it’s going to take time to prerecord and get everything in place, especially if they are going to call each student up one by one. They will also have to sanitize in between each student.
The big question they are getting regularly is, Dunham said, is “why not wait until August?”
“Because we feel we would miss upwards of 50% of our students,” he said. “Because so many of the youth in our community either serve missions or will be going away to school. If we wait until August, those students will miss out. And then we would have their frustration of ‘well, why didn’t you include me?'”
He said they thought about allowing schools to do their own thing to an extent, but that would lead to inconsistencies where some students would feel short-changed.
As of right now, graduation dates will remain the same as they are scheduled, but this could change, Dunham said.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.