CAMDEN — Preble Shawnee Local School District has announced changes to its previously announced plan for 2020 commencement festivities in light of emotional comments made by graduating seniors and their parents during the district’s Board of Education meeting May 14.
“We will be posting a communication on Monday, May 18, on revised graduation ceremony plans,” the district announced via its Facebook page Friday. “Enhancements will include flexible times for seniors to schedule their appointment that will also include dates in early June; options for seniors with larger families; and a stadium graduation ceremony opportunity in June or July (if permitted by the Ohio Department of Education).”
The plan initially announced May 12, dubbed a “Single-Family, In-Person Graduation,” involved individual students being presented with their diplomas on the Preble Shawnee High School stage, with “select family members” present and professional video and photographs provided.
The announcement cited mandates from the Ohio Dept. of Health and the Office of Governor Mike DeWine prohibiting gatherings of more than ten people who do not already share a household.
“Due to the large size of this year’s graduating class, we will need to spread out the times for our graduates to come into the building for this event,” the announcement further reads. “We will limit the number of families on campus at one time and adhere to all physical-distancing requirements. We will need to move families through in an efficient manner.”
A video of the combined ceremonies, including speeches from valedictorians, was slated to be premiered at a Drive-In event in the high school parking lot June 12, before being made available on YouTube.
Many Preble Shawnee parents and seniors were unhappy with the plan.
“A lot of us have talked, and we’d prefer to wait and have something better,” graduating senior Megan Roell said during the board’s May 14 meeting, citing Gov. DeWine’s recently announced “ReOpen Ohio” initiative. “We think that with things opening back up, we should wait and have something more like what we deserve.”
“The whole point of a graduation is so we can be with our class one last time,” Roell continued. “There’s no point walking into the auditorium for five minutes and then walking back out.”
Senior Jasmine King agreed.
“I think what matters is that we actually get to experience the whole graduation part,” King said. “Because we’ve been working 12 years to do that.”
Parent Candi Fyffe-Turpin also suggested waiting for the opportunity to hold a more traditional graduation.
“We should ask the seniors who are leaving for the military what’s the latest date we could possibly do that wouldn’t exclude them,” Turpin said. “That way even if we can’t do it, at least we’ll have made a try for these kids.”
Turpin also raised the issue of students with large families, as each student would be restricted to a total of four or five guests under the current plan.
“My daughter is going to have to decide which brother or sister can’t come,” Turpin said.
Student Kendra Worley, meanwhile, brought up the difficulties faced by students with families divided by divorce.
“This would make it difficult to pick between family members,” Worley said. “I can’t not have some of my family there. I want to be able to graduate like everybody else ever has.”
Board member Charlie Biggs took issue with the fact school administrators apparently made, and announced, the graduation decision without input from all members of the board.
“I’ve heard at least three people say ‘the board’ [made this decision],” Biggs said. “But I didn’t know anything about it until my daughter called me.”
“I can go get a massage or a tattoo,” Biggs continued, again referring to Gov. DeWine’s plans to begin reopening certain businesses throughout the state this month. “But I can’t see my granddaughter graduate?”
Superintendent Matt Bishop admitted he had erred in not informing board members of the decision earlier.
“Once I sent the plan out, my next thought was to tell the board,” Bishop said. “That was the worst way to do it, and that’s definitely my fault.”
Bishop elaborated on the reasoning behind the district’s decision, again citing current state law regarding mass gatherings.
“The only way that everybody can be together right now is in a drive-in scenario where everyone is encapsulated in their cars,” Bishop said. “[The state is] not giving us much hope that large groups are going to be allowed [in the near future].”
“If things open up at the last minute in late July — if there’s an option or an opportunity there — then there’s no reason we wouldn’t take advantage of it,” Bishop continued. “But if we don’t capture this moment when the kids are still fairly together and in town, then what if we get into August and things still haven’t opened up?”
Bishop stressed that rules regarding school events are much different than those, for instance, governing how many people can be present inside a large grocery or department store.
“As far as schools are concerned, it has to be a ten-person event,” Bishop said. “No matter how much we social distance or what other precautions we take.”
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish