In a special called meeting Thursday (June 25), the Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education voted to approve Northside and Southside High School graduations on the field of the high schools on July 16 and 17, respectively.
The board was presented with the following three options for graduation ceremonies for the combined 1,014 seniors at the two schools.
• Holding one ceremony for each school on the respective football fields.
• Holding two ceremonies per school on the respective football fields.
• Holding ceremonies for each school at the Fort Smith Convention Center.
“Never did I think back in April when we were looking at this that we would be here having this discussion in June,” said Talicia Richardson, board member. “Not any of these options are ideal, but we have to do what is safe for our students and attendees and give them an experience. It is not going to look the same as it has.”
The graduation plan approved by a unanimous vote of the board will have one ceremony for each school on their respective football fields — July 16 for Northside High School and July 17 for Southside High School. Ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. each day, which should allow for safe heat index conditions for the duration of the ceremony, which Dr. Doug Brubaker, superintendent, said would need to move quickly.
Students, guests, faculty and administration attending the events must keep six-foot social distancing and wear masks during the event. There will not be a time for “hugging and throwing caps,” administration said. There will be plenty of masks available for the students and guests.
Each student will receive two tickets for guests, and seating will be assigned by lottery. If it is raining at 8 a.m. the day of graduation, the ceremony will be postponed to 8 p.m. at the football field. Ceremonies will be live-streamed for those who cannot attend.
The district announced June 17 that the schools would not have traditional graduation ceremonies because of ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. At the time, the district said it was “committed to providing a memorable graduation experience” for the Northside and Southside Classes of 2020 and their families and contingency plans would need to “closely approximate the look and feel of past graduation ceremonies and celebrate students’ accomplishments while meeting state requirements and otherwise promoting student safety.” Safety and logistical concerns mean the district has to look at different dates, times, location and procedures because of current restrictions.
Richardson asked if plans would be made to read students’ names if they are unable to attend graduation because they are gone, are in transition with their families or do not want to attend because of safety concerns. Dr. Ginni McDonald, FSPS director of secondary education, said she knew both high schools had plans for a senior video that would highlight each student but she would make certain all students, even those who cannot attend, are included in the ceremony.