Describing the process as “trying to build an airplane while it’s flying,” West Plains High School Principal Jack Randolph, after weeks of working with city officials and Howell County Health Department Administrator Chris Gilliam, gave tentative recommendations for a June 6 high school graduation ceremony.
The plan, discussed at Tuesday's meeting of the West Plains R-7 School Board, is for the event to be held at 10 a.m. at the football field, with a limit of six guests per graduate and each group of seven sitting in a designated “box,” in order to meet social distancing guidelines recommended by public health officials, if the weather holds out.
In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will be pushed to 2 p.m., then 4 p.m. if necessary. An event the next day will be considered as a last resort if the weather is simply too wet or severe to be held outdoors.
Plans are being made for the event to be streamed live as well. A letter to seniors and their families should be received by the end of this week or early next.
Just about every possibility that could be considered in order to hold the ceremony in the West Plains Civic Center while sticking to COVID-19 pandemic guidelines has been, Randolph added, including holding five separate ceremonies for 48 graduates at a time, also with a limited crowd and with graduates seated with their guests.
That would meet the maximum seating allowed in the civic center arena under current restrictions, set at 397 people. With those social distancing guidelines in place, seating would be so spread out that some guests would have to be placed in the back of the arena in the expo area, and would have trouble seeing the event, he warned.
If the event were postponed to July, there would be a risk of some students who are leaving town being unable to participate, Randolph observed.
Randolph and West Plains R-7 Superintendent Dr. Lori Wilson emphasized they have looked at the problem from every possible angle, and even communicated with high school officials in other states, as they looked for a workable solution.
The plan was approved unanimously by school board members at their regular monthly meeting.
“It’s going to be different, but it’s going to allow them (graduates) to be together,” Randolph reminded.
“I want you to know that it’s important to me for your kids to have a graduation,” he emphasized to audience members.