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State Task Force Discusses Graduation Options for 2020 Seniors

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Education Continuation Task Force met virtually on Tuesday to discuss how graduation for the 2020 senior class will be affected by Governor Andy Beshear’s recommendation that Kentucky schools continue to utilize non-traditional instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year to help control the spread of COVID-19 in communities across the state.

The federal government has issued a three-phased plan that provides guidance to states on benchmarks they will need to meet in order to begin the reopening process. Currently, Kentucky has not yet entered phase one. However, Beshear has stated that he hopes that process will begin in early May.

Interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown said the problem with forgoing a virtual ceremony and hoping to have an in-person graduation in late summer or early fall is that there is a chance that Kentucky would still be in phase one at that time. This would mean that public gatherings would be limited to 10 people.

Even if Kentucky were to enter phase two by early fall, every person who attends a public event would need to wear gloves and masks. According to the federal guidelines, while in phase two, crowds of more than 50 people are not recommended.

“Ideally, yes, we want to have some sort of in-person ceremony for kids at some point, even if it were the early fall,” said Brown. “However, we do know in reality, there could be a chance that would even be restricted. We probably need to take advantage of doing some type of virtual recognition.”

Brown said there is an idea coming out of Mississippi that could be a very highly choreographed option.

The high school in Mississippi is allowing one senior at a time come and receive his or her diploma. The senior is allowed to bring no more than four immediate family members. While maintaining the proper six feet of social distancing, the senior walks across the stage and receives their diploma.

A videographer will record every senior doing this and then edit the footage together to create a graduation video that will be distributed to the community.

“A lot of creative ideas are going on around the country,” said Brown. “A lot of the options would take a lot of work from staff and a lot of planning, but we owe it to kids to try and think outside of the box and do the best we can.”

Jackie Risden-Smith, superintendent of Fairview Independent Schools, added that the safety of Kentucky’s students should be the main concern at this time.

“Our commitment should be to give seniors the best opportunity possible to experience a graduation ceremony under safe conditions,” she said. “This is what students want and in time, we can look at outside of the box approaches that are far better than a virtual graduation.”

David Johnson from the Southeast/South-central Education Cooperative said there are three questions that he continues to come back to during this unprecedented time:

  • What do districts need to do over the course of the summer to try and reduce academic slides from students?
  • What do districts need to do next fall to try and deal with the slides and the academic gaps that have been created?
  • How will districts be better prepared if there is a resurgence of COVID-19?

“Those are the questions that we’re having internally,” said Johnson. “We’re trying to encourage districts now to begin to transition into those conversations. … Now that the announcement has been made that (schools) won’t be coming back, I think now is the time to do that.”

-Staff report