School officials from Elizabeth School District, Elbert County School District C-2 in Kiowa and Big Sandy 100J District in Simla are trying to figure out the best way to hold commencement ceremonies …
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School officials from Elizabeth School District, Elbert County School District C-2 in Kiowa and Big Sandy 100J District in Simla are trying to figure out the best way to hold commencement ceremonies for the four Elbert County high schools, in the midst of the state executive order limiting gatherings to 10 people or less.
The Elizabeth district, which includes Elizabeth and Frontier high schools, has released a tentative plan for the small Frontier graduating class to hold an outdoor commencement ceremony on May 29, and is hoping for state approval of a waiver request to hold a limited, live-streamed Elizabeth High ceremony on June 6.
Throughout the county, postponing graduation ceremonies until late summer or autumn is one option, which might allow for a traditional in-person graduation with family members and friends allowed to attend. However, the late date could pose a problem for seniors who will be leaving to go to college, military service or a job.
A ceremony like the recent Air Force Academy graduation — where graduates only were allowed, and stood a mandatory six feet apart, with the ceremony being live-streamed — is another option, and a third option includes a drive-in theater-style ceremony, with seniors being allowed on the field but family and friends being relegated to their vehicles surrounding the field.
The scenarios could play out differently for Elbert County’s high schools, as the three smaller schools, Simla, Kiowa and Frontier, each have fewer than 20 students graduating . Elizabeth High has closer to 200 students slated to graduate in the Class of 2020.
Steve Wilson, superintendent of Big Sandy 100J district, said they’ve been working with students and parents to get ideas about what students want to have happen.
“I think everyone would really like a traditional ceremony,” said Wilson. “Because we only have 12 students graduating, we’ve applied for a waiver from the state and will hopefully know soon what we’ll be allowed to do. We would sure love to have parents be able to attend.”
State has variance protocol
Under the state’s executive order, counties can apply for a variance from the state-mandated guidelines, provided they submit an alternative COVID-19 suppression plan and meet certain criteria, such as having the local health department sign off on the plan, have local hospitals verify they have the capacity to serve all people needing their care, and endorsement of the plan by county commissioners.
“The local variance process allows communities that are not experiencing a high rate of transmission to tailor social distancing policies to local conditions, in order to promote community wellness and economic stability. To protect other communities and hospital systems statewide, it is paramount that the local variance process only be used when transmission is at a low enough level to be suppressed through testing and containment efforts to detect positive cases, ensure successful isolation and quarantine close contacts,” says the order.
In the event Big Sandy’s waiver isn’t granted, Wilson said they are prepared to live-stream the ceremony.
“We would adhere strictly to social distancing guidelines and masks,” said Wilson. “It would be similar to our football games, where cars are parked in a big oval around the field, and the ceremony can be streamed on the radio, Facebook and the internet.”
Scott Mader, superintendent of Elbert County School District C-12, said his students would also like a traditional graduation, but under the governor’s orders that couldn’t happen until fall.
“The problem with waiting until fall is that some students, who are leaving because they have jobs or going to college, wouldn’t be able to attend,” said Mader. “Whenever graduation happens, we’re going to make it as unique as we possibly can.”
Kiowa High School has 12 seniors graduating, and school officials are considering placing banners with each student’s photo on the poles lining Main Street. Having the seniors go through some kind of ceremony now, without a crowd, then holding a traditional ceremony in the fall is also an option being considered. Mader is working with Elbert County Public Health and Environment to ensure that whatever they decide, social distancing and masks will be strictly adhered to.
Hoping for approval
The Elizabeth School DIstrict has been working with the health department, students and parents in coming up with its hoped-for plans for its two ceremonies.
Dwayne Smith, Elbert County Public Health and Environment administrator, addressed the issue of graduating classes during a recent public health meeting with Elbert County commissioners.
“We’re working with the schools and helping with variances, and will make the case for the natural social distancing factor in a rural community,” said Smith. “We anticipate there will be a lot of schools wanting waivers, and hope we can get some waivers approved as early as this week.”
Frontier High School has set a tentative date to hold an outside graduation May 29, with students only allowed on the field, while maintaining social distancing practices, including wearing masks. If the ceremony goes forward as planned, each student will have the opportunity to approach the lectern and speak, then receive their diplomas. The lectern will be sanitized after each speaker, and a new microphone cover put in place. Parents can view the ceremony from their vehicles, and anyone who attends must sign a waiver acknowledging the risk.
Elizabeth High School has submitted a waiver request to the state for a June 6 date, and district officials are awaiting a decision. If approved, only graduates and staff will be allowed to attend, and the ceremony will be live-streamed for parents and family members. Superintendent Douglas Bissonette said on May 1 that they hope the June 6 date and the plan submitted for the waiver will be approved, but a final approval won’t likely be available for another week.
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