Indian River schools plan virtual, drivethrough ceremonies

GEORGETOWN – Graduations are a go in the Indian River School District, with planning underway for staging combined virtual and drivethrough/walkthrough ceremonies for Indian River High School, Sussex Central High School and Howard T. Ennis commencements in mid-June.

Under COVID-19 social distancing/public gathering restrictions that could be in place, seniors will have the opportunity to receive their diplomas in ceremonies scheduled June 17 for Indian River, June 18 for Sussex Central and June 19 for Howard T. Ennis School.

“The big thing for us right now is trying to coordinate and logistically plan for a senior drive-thru,” said Indian River High School Principal Michael Williams. “Talking to seniors and parents and teachers, they (seniors) would like the opportunity to be able to walk across the stage, in their cap and gown, receive their diploma, have a chance for some pictures and move on.”

At Sussex Central, there’s a similar plan for an actual ceremony featuring a drive-in procession to the school and a socially distanced walk-thru where each senior would receive his or her diploma.

“We are pretty much in same line with Indian River. We’re looking towards a ceremony where we have a drive-in and call-up stage,” said Sussex Central High School principal Dr. Bradley Layfield.

“We’ll follow whatever the high schools do,” said Kris Perfetti, principal at Howard T. Ennis School. “But we will put, of course, our Howard T. Ennis touch on it.”

Indian River School District’s board of education during its Zoom meeting Monday unanimously approved the combo commencement option over two others. One was an outright virtual ceremony. The other was to put off graduations until mid or late summer in hopes circumstances would allow large public gatherings for traditional outdoor ceremonies.

Delaying graduations until July or August would be risky business, said Dr. Renee Jerns, IRSD’s director of secondary education.

“We would ultimately like to have a traditional graduation ceremony but considering the status of the state right now,” said Dr. Jerns. “I think all of us know that doesn’t look so promising right now. We can’t predict the future. So, we would be taking a great risk if we decided to delay completely.”

A virtual component would augment actual modified processions. The video will feature photos, names of students, music, speeches, conferral of the degrees and would be released to seniors and their families

“We could still release the virtual, because that is a lifetime memory that students and their families could hold on to. But we could add an element where we have some sort of pseudo-ceremony,” said Dr. Jerns.

Sussex Central, in recent years, has had high school graduating classes numbering well over 300.

“We can probably stage between 15 and 30 graduates and a very small group, possibly immediate family; no more than four people in the immediate family at a time about every 10 yards coming through,” said Dr. Layfield.

Sussex Central seniors would walk across a stage in the gymnasium, receive their diploma, pause for a picture capturing the moment and “then exit without touching any doors or anybody … as normal as possibly can be done in this type of year. We could accommodate between 15 and 30 families per hour, which means likely a six-, seven-, eight- or nine-hour ceremony,” said Dr. Layfield.

IRSD board member Dr. Donald Hattier is game.

“Speaking for myself, if it takes eight or nine hours I’ll be there. I think our kids deserve it. They deserve that level of support. We’ve all been inconvenienced out the rear by this thing. But let’s try to do what we can do to make it special for them,” said Dr. Hattier.

Plans at Indian River High include lining the school entrance with senior signs, comprised of color portraits in a class of 2020 green and gold color scheme. If possible, staff would be on hand adhering to whatever protocol there is on June 17.

After the ceremony, signs would be delivered to seniors as an additional memory of the event, Dr. Jerns said.

“We’re doing the senior signs — the yard signs,” said Dr. Layfield. “And I think our intention is to engage our staff in actually placing those signs in the seniors’ yards. We have all of the home addresses, and we want to do that before graduation.”

Community support for the class of 2020 has surfaced, including an idea being pitched for a procession around The Circle in Georgetown.

The three options the district and board considered were not uniformly done by Delaware’s Department of Education but were formulated in collaboration with the Division of Public Health, DTI (Department of Technology & Information) and the Governor’s Office, Mr. Steele said.

“Everybody up and down the state is all over the place with this. Some people are doing a full virtual. Some people are doing a hybrid. Some people are going to try to wait it out,” said Mr. Steele. “At this particular stage, I think this may be the best option for us to proceed with.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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