Area school districts are looking for new ways to honor the accomplishments of graduating seniors in lieu of a traditional graduation. Denison Independent School District, Sherman Independent School District and others are exploring looking at alternatives, or potentially postponing graduation for the 2020 class amid the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced late last week that schools, including public and private schools and colleges and universities, will remain closed for the remainder of the school year in response to the threat posed by the coronavirus. With that executive order, Abbott said the Texas Education Agency will be issuing guidance regarding commencement and graduation ceremonies for this year.
“This is one of the most special times of a person’s life when they go through graduation, so we want to go through everything humanly possible to honor those students,” DISD Superintendent Henry Scott said.
For the 2020 commencement, Scott said the district will be polling the nearly 325 graduating students and their families for ideas on how to hold some form of graduation ceremony. Currently the leading options are to either delay the event or to hold a virtual commencement.
“There are limited proposals really out there. The two most popular would be a virtual graduation or postponing graduation to a later date, either July, September or whatever that date may be,” he said.
While it hasn’t been suggested yet, Scott said there is likely no chance that the district will be able to hold the traditional graduation ceremony as originally planned on May 23. With the governor’s executive order, Scott said he interprets this to include any activities that would fall during the remainder of the semester.
“We will look at all kinds of options,” he said. “It may be that something loosens up between now and May 23 that will allow us to do something, but right now I don’t think that is even going to be a possibility.”
To his knowledge, this could be the first time in 115 years that DISD has not held a graduation. While the may have been some alterations made during the Spanish Flu epidemic more than a century ago, Scott said he has not seen anything outright cancel graduation in his nearly 60 years with the district.
The prospect of a virtual graduation is something new not only to Denison, but also to many district’s across the country. If district officials decide to go with this option, Scott said it will require intense planning on the district’s part.
“We’ve got information from different sources on how you’d do that, but this has never been done before,” he said. “This is a first for school districts.”
Most likely, this would involve the ceremony being broadcast online for both graduates and their families to watch and participate in.
Despite the unorthodox approach, Scott said a virtual graduation does have its advantages. Unlike a traditional graduation, the virtual approach would have less restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend.
In previous years, the event has brought out between five and six thousand friends, parents and extend family members to Munson Stadium. However, in the current climate, this would not be allowed, Scott said.
"We’ve got graduation down at Munson Stadium for a traditional graduation,“ Scott said. ”There is a lot of planning involved, but this is new territory.“
Scott said he expects to have the results of the poll back some time in mid-May.
In addition to the ceremony, Scott said the district is taking other steps to recognize graduations. The district plans to roll out a series of yard signs with the names of graduates on them to families to display.
Meanwhile officials with Sherman ISD are also considering their options. A plan for Sherman’s commencement is expected to come out in the coming days.
“Sherman ISD remains committed to celebrating the Sherman High School Class of 2020,” SISD Communications Director Kimberly Simpson said. “This week, our Sherman High School administrators and the SISD leadership team are meeting to discuss and finalize plans for senior events. That information will be shared directly with our senior students and parents at the end of the week.”
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.