by Geoff Fox
Since March, seniors in Washington County have been attending their classes via distance learning
instead of being in the classroom with their teachers and friends while preparing for graduation in June.
During the April 21 Washington County Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Boyd Michael touched on the status of the seniors and what is being done for graduation.
Michael said he knows what a disappointing spring it’s been so far as many students in the county haven’t had the opportunity to participate in sports, band, chorus, plays, participating in clubs, and being with their friends.
“This isn’t the spring that you anticipated as seniors,” Michael said.
He said WCPS is aware of the issues such as social distancing and the seniors not seeing their friends and is concerned for them.
“We want what’s best for you,” he said.
The school district is holding out hope for graduation ceremonies, but Michael admitted it’s slim hope for any gatherings of large groups celebrating as graduations usually are.
Right now, WCPS is looking at online graduation platforms where all speakers would be heard and each senior recognized.
“Obviously it won’t be the same as being there in person, but in the event we can’t have a live graduation ceremony, we’re going to make it as special as we can for our graduates,” Michael said.
He added the school district was looking to spare no expense and reasonable way to make graduation special.
As more information is gathered, Michael said there would be more details released.
Michael also announced the last day of school for Washington County would be Wednesday, June 10 for students, regardless if schools are reopened or still operating through distance learning.
He said WCPS petitioned for a five-day waiver toward the days missed and were approved for five of the 10 days they missed earlier in the shut down.
With the five days and other scheduled days off, there would only need to be one day made up at the end of the year.
Communications Officer Erin Anderson said in an email if schools were to return on May 18, “I would anticipate that it would be under some strict guidelines.”
Under those guidelines, WCPS would do everything possible to hold a traditional graduation ceremony at each school.
Should modifications be needed, the school district would adjust as necessary.
“We can’t wait to begin preparations for alternative types of graduation ceremonies should it be impossible to hold anything that resembles a traditional graduation,” she said.
Dates and time could change to provide to provide the greatest opportunity for a traditional ceremony within reason and to accommodate the preparations for alternatives.
“Many details are still in progress,” Anderson said.
Anderson said she has read, considered, and responded to emails from parents, students, and community members who have expressed thoughts about graduation ceremonies.
Since early April, students have been taking their classes through distance learning on computers at home. Anderson said with any change of the magnitude WCPS has had, there have been hiccups.
She said the school system continues to review and adjust strategies to meet the needs of all students.
“Overall, I have been very impressed with the way the students and teachers have taken on this challenge,” Anderson said. “Many outstanding lessons are being taught to our students daily.”
County school officials are very concerned about some children who are struggling with the learning approach, she added.
Because of their age, for many students this type of learning may or may not be as appropriate as the traditional learning settings.
“WCPS is working on a full recovery plan to support or striving learners and youngest learners when we return to school,” Anderson said.
Throughout the closure, WCPS has been providing meals for students on a pick-up basis at schools. In Hancock, that location has been Hancock Middle-Senior High School.
Anderson said the Meal Machine would continue to serve meals over the summer months.
“It remains to be seen if the federal guidelines of the program will continue to be relaxed as they are now for the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.
Those guidelines require meals be served in communities where 50% of students receive free and reduced meals.
WCPS had been able to expand meal services to 19 locations during the school closures and COVID-19 pandemic.
Anderson said the school system is grateful to students, teachers, administrators, and families for making distance learning successful.
“We understand each family is in unique circumstances, and we appreciate what our learning community is doing to support one another and to support students in continued learning,” she said. “We ask everyone to be flexible, patience and if all else fails, read, read, read.”