Call it Plan C. As in COVID-19. Or a third try.
Both fit Litchfield School District’s efforts to honor the graduating class of 2020, which turned to a third option last week when high school Principal Jason Michels announced a plan for a drive-by ceremony in the school parking lot on Saturday, May 30.
The plan — necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and state social distancing directives — followed the original plan for an indoor commencement at the high school, and a “Plan B” outdoor ceremony at the football stadium.
“There has been some challenges with commencement,” Michels told the school board during a virtual meeting May 11. “I think we’ve found a sweet spot where we can be responsible” and still have a ceremony.
The drive-by commencement on May 30, would be followed by a virtual commencement broadcast on KLFD at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, May 31.
Michels said that since the pandemic turned regular school planning of all sorts on its head, he has maintained contact with LHS seniors in an attempt to get their input on an appropriate and acceptable graduation salute.
He surveyed seniors in an email on May 1, and received nearly 90 responses. Then he met with a group of 94 seniors in a Google Meet session on May 5.
“Everybody was given a chance to provide input,” he said. “In terms of complaining and negativity, there was absolutely none. I was extremely proud of the kids and how they handled it.”
For some members of the class of 2020, “this is a big deal … for others it’s not” and there are others “in between,” he said.
After those meetings, Michels believed they had a responsible plan for commencement at the football field that would allow for recommended social distancing but also provide the stage for seniors to walk and collect their diplomas.
But that all changed when the Department of Education, Office of Higher Education and Department of Health on May 8 issued guidelines that promoted virtual commencement ceremonies and prohibited indoor graduations as well as large outdoor gatherings in places like stadiums or football fields.
“We know that many schools have considered ceremonies outside in stadiums or football fields,” the guidelines said. “In-person social gatherings with people from multiple households, even in situations where ample space between attendees could be accommodated, does not comply with social distancing practices and introduces a great deal of contact unpredictability and increases the potential for disease transmission. These gatherings are not considered safe at any size and will not be permitted.”
The state also recommended against a plan by some school districts to delay graduation ceremonies until later in the summer in hopes that a more traditional ceremony could still be held.
“While we recognize the desire to honor this rite-of-passage in the more traditional way, we cannot offer a timeline for when public health guidance will be changed to accommodate large gatherings,” the agencies’ guidance said.
Given that, Michels said, it was necessary to “tweak” his Plan B, and move commencement to the high school parking lot – a permitted venue.
The plan would have seniors arrive in vehicles with parents at staggered times at the main entrance to the high school, where they would receive their diploma and have an opportunity for a photo in front of the school entrance. They also would receive graduation gifts.
Once that portion was complete, Michels said, a caravan of graduates and families would be escorted by police in a parade through town.
Michels said that once plans are finalized, the district would contact parents via usual communication channels to explain.