Since a procession across the stage — complete with a handshake, photo op and flip of the tassel — is unlikely to happen for this year’s Carroll High School seniors because of coronavirus-related restrictions, students and administrators have a drive-thru commencement ceremony in the works.
Rather than rescheduling the school’s graduation, potentially more than once, in the hopes of holding it in person, the school likely will offer a socially distant commencement ceremony for its 115 seniors, keeping to the originally scheduled date of May 24.
The school arrived at that decision after consulting with a student-run graduation committee, Carroll High School Principal Tammie McKenzie said during Monday’s Carroll School Board meeting.
“I’ll tell you that in all of the chaos, they would like something as normal as possible,” she said. “The last thing they want to do is to push it forward with the risk of it having to be canceled or changed.”
The plan for this year’s commencement is a combination of a virtual ceremony, which would include speakers and would be broadcast over the radio, and a parade-like drive-thru ceremony where students would receive their diplomas one by one in the high school parking lot.
McKenzie has mapped out how the parking lot would be used for the ceremony and is working with county and state public health officials to determine how certain aspects of the ceremony would work, including if students and families could leave their vehicles briefly for photos while receiving their diplomas.
“We wanted to come up with a solution that was special to some degree, but we’re working with the mindset that we’re not going to be able to — in the month of May and, we don’t think, in the month of June — have a gym full of people for a graduation ceremony,” Carroll Schools Superintendent Casey Berlau said.
A June ceremony also would mean some students with military or other summer commitments couldn’t attend; keeping the original date allows for some normalcy, administrators said.
“We need to help give some closure, and the longer we keep putting things off, the harder that is for families to do,” McKenzie said. “I think the time that has passed has allowed everyone to understand that because there are so many things that are out of our control, just keeping pushing things forward isn’t going to necessarily fix anything.”
The conversation about rescheduling commencement comes on the heels of the announcement that students’ spring sports season had been canceled and that they wouldn’t return to school in person for the remainder of the year. For seniors in particular, that raises questions of what commencement or prom would look like.
“My heart hurts for them,” McKenzie said. “So we’re going to try to do all we can to do our best for them.”
She added, “Our goal is to have the kids be together in the form that we can, honor them for all of their incredible accomplishments and try to make it a memorable day for them. And to have them understand, if they can, that no one will ever forget the Class of 2020. We won’t forget them.”
The school also is finalizing additional plans to close out the school year:
— The school’s continuous learning plan will continue, with students of all grades working on assignments distributed online or through mailed paper packets. The program, mandated by the state, is voluntary for students in the Carroll Community School District. The last day of school is May 22.
— Students’ third-quarter grades will be used as the second-semester grades, in lieu of providing a separate grade for the fourth quarter. High-school students have the option of receiving a pass/fail or incomplete grade, which will not count in their grade point average. Middle-school students also will receive a pass/fail grade. Teachers and administrators will work with students who had a failing third-quarter grade on options to turn in late work to improve their grade.
— The school still is working on the best way to empty out classrooms. If groups larger than 10 are able to gather during the month of May, students and parents might be able to come into the schools to gather belongings from classrooms and lockers. If not, school staff likely will bag up the items for families to pick up. The school also will set a time for students to turn in their laptops.
— Grab and Go meals will continue through June 30, and the summer lunch program might run through July.
— Teacher check-out will take place in late May, with a virtual professional development event planned if teachers can’t meet in person on May 26.