IRHS senior asks for outdoor graduations, if at all possible

DAGSBORO – Already, COVID-19 has greatly impacted traditional stretch-run plans of the Class of 2020.

Indian River High School senior Riley Murray hopes it does not deny her and countless other seniors that very special day: traditional graduation.  

“High school graduation is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and milestone,” said Riley. “Being the youngest in my family I have waited for this day for years, watching my brother and cousins walk across that stage, and throw their decorated caps up into the air.”

Riley “zoomed” in Monday night during public commentary of Indian River School District board of education meeting, sharing with the board and virtual audience, “Everything for seniors has been cancelled or postponed – prom, sporting events, musicals, band trips, actually having a last day of high school and walking out with your comrades …”

“I hope you ponder the idea of having a live graduation if the outside situation due to the COVID-19 allows it,” she said. “Students, parents and teachers can all social distance, and wear masks.”

Because the ceremony must be outside, a rain date must be created, she added.

Indian River Superintendent Mark Steele would like nothing more than to have traditional graduations for schools in the district.

And in hopes there is a sliver of hope for a return to some phase of normalcy, IRSD’s board of education approved his recommendation to push previously scheduled graduation dates from late May to mid-June. The revised graduation dates are Indian River High School (June 17), Sussex Central High School (June 18) and Howard T. Ennis School (June 19).

“I don’t like to jump right off the plank today and make that decision on what we are going to do,” said Mr. Steele. “Hopefully, we will have a little bit more insight as to what is going on in the community. If we are still on stay at home, if we are still not in a phase that we are safe then we’re going to have to have a solid discussion on what direction we are going to go.”

Mr. Steele said he has checked the pulse of other school districts on plans for graduation.

“I have polled the other superintendents. We have some that going 100 percent virtual. And they are going to plan something together somewhere down the line,” said Mr. Steele. “We have some who are going to try to wait it out.”

Of late, several communities in the northern portion of the Indian River district have experienced a huge spike in COVID-19 cases. This could factor in the graduation ceremony equation.

“The only problem that concerns me waiting too long is where we are today in Sussex County, in our school district, particularly in Millsboro and Georgetown,” Mr. Steele said. “We have to be careful waiting, because if we wait, will we have the opportunity to get it in? Are we still going to have to work around social distancing? There are going to be all those restrictions that we are going to have to deal with.”

“If we put it off to July or August, we run the risk of having any student who is going into the military … they may not be available to participate. There are a lot of pros and cons, no matter what we look at,” said Mr. Steele. “Realistically, what’s going to drive what we can do is going to be the condition or the environment of our community. If we’re still battling this, if we still have restrictions, then we are going to have to make a decision that is probably not going to be an easy decision.”

In her commentary, Riley referred to the United States Air Force Academy, which recently held an outdoor graduation ceremony with adherence to social distance guidelines. The academy’s April 18 event was closed to spectators but available through online live-stream.

“I proposed the idea of having student representatives to be on the board that is deciding how graduation is going to work this year … one from Indian River High School, Sussex Central High School and Howard T. Ennis. I volunteer myself for Indian River,” Riley said. “I understand that these things take time and I am not expecting a decision to be made tonight.”

“It may be a very hard decision, and it may not,” said Mr. Steele. “Hopefully, this will all clear up in a month, month and a half and we would be open to go ahead and doing something. I am not sure that is going to happen but as of now I think our best option is, let’s move it from the calendar where it is now … and next month make a decision. I promise you we will look at every possible thing that we can do and try to do something that everybody would accept.”

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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