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Governor Recommends Phased Re-opening of Restaurants / Businesses and Parks and Recommendations to School Districts on Graduation / Other Activities

Commissioner of Education Dr. Penny Schwinn has forwarded graduation opportunity guidelines to each of the high school districts.
Photo submitted / The Lexington Progress

Article by W. Clay Crook-

During the 3:00 p.m. media briefing by Governor Bill Lee on Thursday, April 23, 2020 the Governor said that there would be a special media broadcast on Friday to discuss opening restaurants on Monday, April 27th at 50% capacity and some businesses on Wednesday April 29th at 50% capacity. “Not all businesses will be able to open at the same time, take one step at a time with the data, and start at phase one, and follow data for the next two phases. The public safety is of the utmost importance to us and each guideline will include social distancing.”  Parks, he said, could start reopening on Friday, April 24th, but areas like playgrounds would need to remain closed and social distancing maintained.

Governor Lee said that recommendations have been sent to each county so that they can customize the re-opening plans for their community, and that would be discussed more on Friday’s briefing. Other businesses, like hair salons and barber shops may be part of a third phase.

Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn said that guidelines have been sent to each of the high school districts on graduation opportunities and related events.

COVID-19: Guidance on High School Graduation Ceremonies and Related Activities
The outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent school building closures for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year have created questions related to high school graduation and related activities. Understanding the milestone that high school graduations represent in the lives of our students and families, the department has investigated potential solutions for local consideration. It is important that LEAs consider how a graduation ceremony can be held while respecting suggested state and local guidelines.

Below are some frequently asked questions and considerations for how to navigate these concerns at the local level, though not exhaustive.

Governor Lee recommended that all school buildings remain closed for the remainder of the school year.

May schools still host graduation ceremonies?
Decisions around whether or not to host graduation ceremonies will remain at the discretion of local school boards and superintendents. We encourage local districts to consult their county or regional health departments on questions related to health and safety in hosting graduation ceremonies.

What could a graduation ceremony look like, inclusive of social distancing?
There are a number of solutions that can be utilized to host graduation ceremonies using social distancing:
• Football Stadiums or Larger Arenas: This would include limiting guests to accommodate total capacity, seating families in every three rows in the stadium, and seating graduates 6-feet apart. Multiple ceremonies may also be considered. Weather should be a factor in this decision.

• Drive-ins or Similar: Families may arrive, and remain seated in cars, which allows for minimal physical engagement. This can be done at drive-ins, large parking lots (like malls), or similar. Weather considerations related to heat and rain should be addressed, especially as all cars would need to be turned off in order to conduct the ceremony. Safe walking pathways would need to be outlined for graduates to exit the vehicles and safely collect their diplomas. Similarly, large projected screens and sound equipment may be required. Further, students and families without vehicles would need alternative seating and transportation.

• Increase the Number and Decrease the Size: Instead of hosting one ceremony, host a series of smaller ceremonies in the same venue. This would be conducted similar to a traditional school day, where students would have six blocks of classes, for example. This would allow smaller cohorts of the graduating class to participate in a ceremony, with that ceremony repeated 2+ times to accommodate all high school graduates and any permitted guests. For example, a high school could host a graduation in a multipurpose room or gym that may allow for groups of 25 – 50 seniors at a time (with limited guests, spaced-out in the stands). That ceremony would be repeated to accommodate the full size of the graduating class. For very large classes, this could mean 6 – 12 ceremonies. Schools may want to create consistency by pre-recording speeches and students walking across the stage, and then asking for support to splice those videos together into one, comprehensive keepsake ceremony video.

• Individualized Ceremony: Schedule students to arrive in waves that allows them to walk in front of the school and families to walk on the sidewalk or drive-by in cars to take pictures.  This would require precise scheduling, traffic control, etc. and may be appropriate for smaller graduating classes in less trafficked areas.

What are other ways we can honor seniors?
• Ask seniors to send individual videos with short messages to their graduating classmates. This, with the traditional filmed speeches by invited speakers, creates a longer film highlighting the graduates’ high school experiences and provides a long-term memento.

• Highlight seniors on social media each day with special hashtags that allow for family, friends, and community members to congratulate individual students (who agree to participate) with photos and messages.

• Schedule a graduation parade where graduates decorate their cars, line-up and drive a prescribed route. Community members may socially distance along the parade route and cheer graduates as they drive past. There could be a specific place where each car stops, allowing the school or district official to pose with the car and hand the passenger or driver the diploma.

• Secure a digital billboard and display messages directly from graduates to his or her class. Expand that to include messages from families and friends to graduates as well.

• Work with local city or county officials to block off a road. Allow the senior and 1-2 family members to stand along the road (socially distanced) and have school or district personnel present the diplomas. Timing, size of class, and environmental contexts should be considered.

• Postpone the graduation (and subsequent proms) until later this summer or fall, or host them in one year as an “early reunion.”

What are additional safety measures we should consider?
• Mark the standing locations of graduates waiting in line to collect their diplomas.

• Position any graduate seating at appropriate distances, so that chairs are distanced from one another in all directions.

• Consider the processional and support required to…

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For the complete article, see the April 29th edition of The Lexington Progress.

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