By Chris Edwards
AUSTIN – Last week the Texas Education Agency issued guidance to Texas schools as to how to carry out graduation ceremonies during what TEA Commissioner Mike Morath called “a very strange time for public education.”
With the phased reopening under Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders, public schools are remaining closed throughout the 2019-20 school year, with students receiving at-home instruction. However, TEA’s guidance allows for in-person commencement exercises, provided that it takes place in a rural county that is designated as such in Abbott’s report on reopening the state. The guidance memorandum gives the period of May 15 through 31 for outdoor ceremonies for these counties. Outdoor ceremonies, according to TEA, are allowed in all Texas counties on or after June 1.
Tyler County is one such county with the rural designation, and all five of the county’s schools have announced plans to go forward with in-person graduation exercises.
“Graduation ceremonies mark a major milestone for students and their families,” said Morath. “All educators are committed first and foremost to ensuring the health and safety of our students.”
As services reopen in the continued effort to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, TEA advised all districts to consult with legal counsel about any planned activities. In addition to outdoor in-person ceremonies, TEA provided three other recommended graduation pathways: completely virtual ceremonies; hybrid ceremonies and vehicle ceremonies.
The hybrid ceremonies, by TEA’s definition, consist of a compilation of videos of students being recognized in person as they celebrate graduation in small groups.
Vehicle ceremonies would have students and their families waiting in their vehicles while graduates are recognized one at a time with their families alongside them. “Ensuring public health and safety remains the focus for all involved,” a TEA news release stated.
Here are the plans, as they stand at press time, with the five schools in the county:
Chester High School – Chester ISD is planning a traditional indoor ceremony for June 20 at 6 p.m. in the Julius P. Johnson Gymnasium. However, according to the district, if guidelines are unchanged by the scheduled date, the ceremony will move to outdoors.
Colmesneil High School – For CHS’s class of 2020, the ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 23 at Taylor Field.
All seniors will receive eight wristbands to distribute to their family and friends for admittance to the ceremony. It will be broadcast live on Facebook.
Spurger High School – Spurger ISD is hosting its graduation on the Warren ISD football field at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 30. In a letter from the district, it notes that make-up dates of May 31 or June 1 are planned in case of inclement weather.
Each Spurger senior will be provided with 10 wristbands to distribute to whomever they choose. Additionally, every person with a wristband at the event must, by state law, fill out a questionnaire to be allowed entry, and personnel will check each person’s temperature upon entering the stadium.
Warren High School – Warren’s class of 2020 will walk across the stage on the school’s football field at 8 p.m. om Friday, May 29. According to Warren HS Principal Jimbo Swinney, the district is working diligently to develop and organize the plans and procedures for the event, and more logistics are coming for the graduating seniors.
“I know that each of you have had your senior year turned upside down; however, with this latest approval for graduation, we are going to do our best to make this a very special evening,” said Swinney.
Woodville High School – Woodville will hold its high school graduation on the original planned date of Friday, May 29 at 8 p.m. at Eagle Stadium.
A news release from WISD on the district website states that there will be guidelines to follow and that more information from the district is forthcoming.