High schools tweak graduation ceremony plans

Graduation ceremonies to be held at three county high schools starting on Friday evening will look at lot different than those held in 2019.

HANCOCK COUNTY — Graduation ceremony plans for county high schools this week align with the state’s recently modified guidelines on gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the county’s health officer.

Indiana decided to hold off on entering the fifth and final stage of its reopening plan on July 4. Instead, many Stage 4 measures remain in place through July 17, including capping social gatherings at 250 people following social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That raised a question about commencements. Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and New Palestine high schools are holding their ceremonies outdoors starting Friday evening. Representatives of all three districts reported guidance they’ve received from the Hancock County Health Department indicates that seating at those venues make up multiple, separate sites with their own capacity caps of 250, meaning total attendance can exceed that amount.

New Palestine High School’s graduation ceremony is at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 11. The school previously reported that each graduate’s family can obtain four tickets permitting admittance to specific sections of the bleachers. Graduates will also sit 6 feet apart on the field during the ceremony, and a livestream will be provided for those unable to attend. The school also has a virtual ceremony backup scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, July 12.

Wes Anderson, director of school and community relations for the Community School Corporation of Southern Hancock County, told the Daily Reporter in an email that some minor changes are anticipated to seating arrangements in light of the state’s new Stage 4.5, but no reduction in tickets is anticipated.

Anderson added the school plans to enforce social distancing for people in line and in the bleachers.

“Masks will be required for all attendees until they arrive at their seats,” he said. “Upon finding a seat, masks will be strongly encouraged, but not required. We will have multiple entrances and exits to help keep spectators distanced as they enter.”

Mt. Vernon High School’s graduation ceremony is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 10 with a virtual ceremony backup.

Maria Bond, director of community relations for Mt. Vernon, told the Daily Reporter in an email that the high school has made some changes to its plans too.

“The Mt. Vernon High School administration has reviewed the numbers of patrons and graduates for commencement and has changed the number of tickets allotted for each student’s family to two tickets,” she said. “Mt. Vernon will strongly recommend face coverings for all spectators and provide seating that adheres to the… guidelines for social distancing.”

Bond added guests will be dismissed in an orderly fashion at the end of the ceremony and be asked to leave the parking lot and not congregate.

Greenfield-Central High School’s graduation ceremony is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, July 11 and also has a virtual backup. Principal Jason Cary told the Daily Reporter in an email that school officials are discussing what Stage 4.5 might mean for the commencement but didn’t have anything to share as of Monday.

Dr. Sandra Aspy, Hancock County health officer, pointed to the Stage 4.5 guidelines that allow for fairs, festivals and similar events to resume according to provisions of a state executive order. That order states that such events may resume and if they’re outdoors. Social distancing must be ensured, and face coverings are strongly recommended.

Aspy said that guideline, along with intentions for separate, distance-buffered seating areas with separate entrances and exits allowing people to flow in and out without congregating were all part of her thought process behind responding favorably to the schools’ plans.

“I think the schools have really tried to be very thoughtful with the plans, and we’re very fortunate in our county that our numbers have been very good,” Aspy said.

Eastern Hancock High School released a video commencement ceremony and held a vehicle parade in June. Depending on social distancing requirements in place at the time, the senior class also aims to hold a graduation party on July 25.

Adam Barton, the school’s principal, said the festivities currently call for a senior breakfast that morning followed by a ceremony in the gym that will include graduates walking across a stage in their caps and gowns, getting their photos taken and a tassel-turning. A grad walk will follow through the school, and teachers will be invited back into their classrooms so that they and graduates can exchange goodbyes, Barton also said.

The Indiana State Department of Health reported Monday that there have been 450 COVID-19 cases among Hancock County residents since the pandemic began. Cases in the county have been trickling upward in recent weeks, except for July 3, when 12 were added.

The number of Hancock County residents known to have died from COVID-19 remained at 35 Monday, a figure that hasn’t changed since June 25. Tests in the county rose to 6,638, the newest 37 of which occurred between July 1 and 5.

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High school graduation ceremonies are this week. The events will be held in the schools’ football stadiums:

Mt. Vernon High School: 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 10

Greenfield-Central High School: 9 a.m. Saturday, July 11

New Palestine High School: 10 a.m. Saturday, July 11.