Despite a global pandemic and ubiquitous social distancing, Anderson County high schools are pushing ahead with plans for traditional outdoor graduation ceremonies in late May and early June.
Palestine, Elkhart, and Oakwood High Schools, with ceremonies on Friday, May 29, will make up the first round of outdoor graduations.
Even relatively traditional ceremonies, however, will have a coronavirus twist: The Texas Education Agency laid out rules school districts must follow for 2020 graduations, such as COVID-19 screening and social distancing practices. Participation by students and family members is voluntary.
To comply with social distancing practices, school districts must cap the number of participants – students, families, and staff – at manageable levels in outdoor venues, both during the event and entering and leaving it.
Moreover, unlike fully traditional graduations, diplomas or other documents will not be handed from person to person, unless gloves are worn by those distributing diplomas.
Participants must keep six feet or more away from others. Members of the same household may sit together in the audience but remain at least six feet away from other family groups.
Sanitizer or hand washing stations will be at all venue entrances, as required by TEA guidelines.
Graduating seniors may bring five or fewer family members, seated in assigned areas throughout the stadiums, as stipulated by Texas Education Association guidelines.
Prior to attending ceremonies, participating students and attending family members will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms: fever, chills, cough, fatigue, body aches, shortness of breath, sore throat, headaches, nausea, nasal congestion, loss of taste or smell; and close contact, within the last 14 days, with a person who is lab-confirmed to have COVID-19.
Those with signs or symptoms will be excluded from the graduation.
Palestine, Elkhart, and Oakwood are scheduling outdoor graduations for Friday, May 29. Palestine's graduation will take place at Wildcat Stadium at 8 p.m.
Elkhart's ceremony, at Jerry Ives Memorial Stadium at 8 p.m., will follow a recent vote by Elkhart's student body on whether they wanted an in-person graduation – or the drive-thru graduation the district originally planned.
Oakwood's graduation ceremony will take place 7 p.m. at its football stadium.
Westwood's and Slocum's graduations both take place on Friday, June 5: Westwood's at Panther Stadium at 8 p.m., and Slocum's at its high school's baseball field at 8 p.m.
Cayuga's ceremony on Saturday, June 13, starts at 7 p.m. at Scarborough Stadium. Frankston's graduation at Jeff and Opal Austin Stadium on June 19 starts at 8 p.m.
Palestine held its virtual ceremony Wednesday , when the school filmed each student crossing the stage and receiving his or her diploma.
Grapeland seniors will participate in a hybrid ceremony, beginning next week. Each student will participate in a 30-minute private ceremony with his or her family and friends.
The school will record each session and turn it into a compilation to distribute to students.