OHS to hold limited, in-person graduation ceremony

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion

OKEECHOBEE– Okeechobee High School seniors will get a traditional graduation ceremony after all– with one big caveat.

The class of 2020 graduation ceremony will be on May 30 at 9 a.m. in the Okeechobee County Agri-Civic Center. However, due to COVID-19, the graduation will be open to seniors only, with family and friends able to watch the ceremony streaming live on Facebook and Youtube.

The Palm Beach County School District already announced last month that all of its graduation ceremonies will be held virtually this year. St. Lucie County Public Schools announced they’d be holding traditional ceremonies, but much later than usual, with most scheduled for early July.

The Okeechobee County School District distributed a survey to students and parents about what they would prefer, and most wanted their graduate to be able to walk across the graduation stage rather than participate in a virtual ceremony. Students also voiced that they wanted to graduate as an entire class rather than be split into smaller groups.

However, the limited seating and social distancing guidelines put in place for safety reasons by President Trump and Governor Ron DeSantis meant it would be nearly impossible for seniors to have their usual allotment of tickets for family members.

“Our available facilities would not allow us to provide two tickets for every graduate and social distance,” said OHS Principal Lauren Myers. “There just aren’t enough seats. Right now even large box stores are having to limit capacity. We would not have the ability to regulate the crowd that would form at the entrance gate, bathrooms, etc. We tried to implement every safety precaution available while still providing a ceremony for the class of 2020.”

OHS will hold the ceremony closer to the original date rather than delay it like St. Lucie County, due to concerns over students no longer being in the area by late July.

“The decision to hold the event as close to the original date as possible was in an effort to provide a ceremony for the maximum number of graduates as possible,” explained Mrs. Myers. “We have no way to predict the conditions that will be met in July. Many students will have already left Okeechobee to begin their futures by that time. The plans for graduation was an extensive effort to consider every single available opportunity for parents and students. As a school district we not only have to abide by the rules, we are responsible for creating an environment that is conducive for social distancing.”

The announcement that only seniors would be permitted at the ceremony drew some ire online from parents who understandably were looking forward to seeing their child graduate in person.

But the school district’s hands are largely tied at this point. Ultimately no matter what decision the district made, whether it was a virtual ceremony or one that was delayed for another month, it would’ve drawn criticism in some form.

There will be safety guidelines that govern every step of the ceremony from the time the students enter the property until they leave. These guidelines have been printed and will be placed in bags that will be available to be picked up May 21 in the OHS bus circle between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The graduation ceremony is a voluntary event. Students are not required to participate. If you are not comfortable with the plans that have been set in place or if you have or live with someone who has an underlying health condition that makes you more vulnerable, you have the authority and discretion to not attend.

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