After the Illinois State Board of Education last Thursday banned most of the modified commencement options many schools had been planning, the state board reversed course over the weekend, and will now allow some versions of in-person graduations to occur.
Ceremonies must still observe the social distancing guidelines that are in effect to stem the COVID-19 epidemic, but drive-ins, drive-throughs, and individualized ceremonies will be allowed as long as local health department officials concur.
In an update, the ISBE says that as long as “all efforts (are) made to ensure social distancing and prevent mass gatherings of people,” seniors will be able to receive their degrees one at a time on-stage at school, which had been the plan at Bement, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, Rantoul, St. Joseph-Ogden, Salt Fork, Tuscola and Westville, among others.
Monticello is also leaning toward an in-person option, one of several that had been under consideration.
“It will be some version of in-person. We are working out details for board of education and health department approval,” said Superintendent Vic Zimmerman, noting the date will likely be May 16 or 17.
The district has discussed using the newly remodeled auditorium to allow students to receive diplomas and have photos taken, but only a few at a time. The ISBE recommends this option be used with “individual students” who would “come to the school at prearranged times to walk across a stage in their cap and gown and have a photo taken.”
Other options considered at MHS have included a drive-through style commencement, or video taping seniors individually and compiling them into a graduation movie.
Blue Ridge had already announced detailed plans for a drive-through style commencement on May 17, something that will now be allowed with the ISBE’s weekend clarification.
“The change now allows for the type of drive-in program that we had been planning. We will proceed as previously described,” said Blue Ridge School Superintendent Susan Wilson.
Bement is planning an in-person ceremony, and with a senior class of about 20 feels it could do so in its Walsh Gymnasium and provide adequate social distancing.
Superintendent Sheila Greenwood complimented the ISBE for being flexible.
“ISBE has been doing an excellent job trying to help us navigate through this from the beginning, so I am glad they are continuing to be as helpful as they possibly can to help us retain any sense of normalcy to this unprecedented time,” she said.
“We are happy that the governor, ISBE and Illinois Department of Public Health listened to our proposed plans, changed their guidance, and now trust us to honor our seniors who have missed out on so many traditional end-of-year activities,” added Zimmerman. “They need to close out their high school careers in a positive way so that they can move forward with the next stage in their lives, be it college, trade school, military or the workforce.”
The two other Piatt County school districts – Cerro Gordo and DeLand-Weldon, are delaying commencement ceremonies into the summer in hopes that a more traditional, in-person ceremony will be allowed by that time.
“Hopefully, by the end of July, we will be able to do a traditional graduation with modifications as planned,” said D-W Superintendent Amanda Geary. A ceremony is tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, July 25.
Cerro Gordo Superintendent Brett Robinson said plans are for a “late July graduation.”