By MARINA WATERS
Washington County Board of Education members say they aren’t ready “to shut the door” on having a traditional graduation ceremony just yet.
During the board’s regularly scheduled Thursday, May 7, meeting, the BOE unanimously decided to hold virtual graduation for David Crockett High School and Daniel Boone High School followed by a more traditional graduation ceremony to take place either June 19 and 20 or July 24 and 25.
“I would like to see us go ahead with this virtual graduation and plan a regular graduation (in the summer),” Fleenor said. “My thinking is we won’t know what it’s going to look like in June or July,” board member Chad Fleenor said. “I’m just leaving the option open. I’m not shutting the door on a real graduation just yet.”
Washington County Director of Secondary Education Ashley Keys said the virtual graduations would include 10 graduating students at a time with up to six guests per student in attendance. All attendees would follow CDC guidelines with face coverings, and would adhere to social distancing protocols. Students would also get a copy of the ceremony on DVD.
Keys told the board it will take several days to complete the smaller, virtual graduations, which will be held May 21-24 for Boone seniors and May 28-31 for Crockett seniors. School administration will be contacting families and students with each graduation ceremony’s exact date, time and safety procedures.
However, board members said numerous parents had reached out asking for a more traditional graduation ceremony for the class of 2020. Washington County Director of School Bill Flanary also read a letter from a Crockett parent asking that the board consider hosting a traditional ceremony on the football field later this summer, similar to what local schools such as Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett are doing.
“This is what the families want,” board member Mary Beth Dellinger said. “We should do this just to see if this is something that could happen.”
Board member Annette Buchanan asked Director of Schools Bill Flanary what the health department said about hosting a more traditional graduation ceremony next month.
Flanary said according to Dr. David Kirschke, the medical director for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department and the Washington County Health Department, Vanderbilt has conducted a study and expects a surge in cases “in about six week’s time, which is at the end of June.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Buchanan said, referring to a potential future surge in COVID-19 virus cases. “Right now we can get 100 people in (one place), but we may have a surge that takes it back to 25.”
Flanary also said Boone and Crockett plan to host a parade in honor of 2020 graduates.
Boone plans to host a parade through Gray on Saturday, May 16, at 1 p.m. with the parade ending at Daniel Boone High School. The Washington County Sheriff’s Department and the Gray, Sulphur Springs,Fall Branch Fire Departments will lead the parade while Flanary, the school system’s director of human resources, Susan Kiernan, and Daniel Boone Principal Tim Campbell will serve as grand marshals. The radio station WQUT will also be broadcasting during the parade.
“We are also lucky to have great leadership from Dr. Flanary and the Washington County School Board who care greatly for our students and schools,” Daniel Boone Principal Tim Campbell said. “These leaders set a precedent by voting to allow us to have the parade, virtual, and in-person graduations to show the Class of 2020 how much they care for them. This year’s graduating class has overcome many obstacles but fighting through missing the majority of the last semester of high school has shown the strength of each member. Our teachers have transitioned to teaching online seamlessly and continued to do the best for our students. We will look back on these trying times and see numerous displays of Boone Pride.”
Meanwhile, Crockett plans to hold a parade through Main Street in Jonesborough on Saturday, May 16, at 11 a.m. That parade will end at David Crockett High School.
Crockett seniors Ronquille Joyner and Bailey Wynn also reached out to the local radio station, 94.9, and radio DJ Jason Reed has agreed to help with music, live interviews with educators and students — while still social distancing —in the parking lot at Crockett.
“The kids are excited and they are going to get the message out to their classmates for a fun first-of-it- kind celebration,” David Crockett Principal Peggy Wright said in an email. “I give credit to Bailey and Ronquille who have led the charge on the idea and organization.”
Board members also said more details for the traditional ceremony in either June or July could be figured out and discussed at the June BOE meeting. Mostly, Fleenor and the nine-member board expressed a desire to wait and see what all is an option in the coming month.
“If Dollywood opens or they have a race up at Bristol and we didn’t try our very best — I’m not willing to just throw it away just yet,” Fleenor said. “I just want to keep this open. This is their legacy.”
The next BOE meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 19, at 5 p.m. The school system’s budget as well as plans for graduation will be discussed at that meeting. The next regularly scheduled BOE meeting will be held on Thursday, June 4. More information on graduation, along with a live-stream of both meetings, can be found at www.wcde.org.