The Arkansas Commissioner of Education Johnny Key announced during Saturday's COVID-19 Governor's update, that traditional graduations would not be permitted prior to July 1. While high school districts are eager to celebrate the accomplishments of their seniors now, so are colleges across the state.
The Arkansas Commissioner of Education Johnny Key announced during Saturday’s COVID-19 Governor’s update, that traditional graduations would not be permitted prior to July 1.
While high school districts are eager to celebrate the accomplishments of their seniors now, so are colleges across the state.
While most colleges are moving forward with non-traditional graduations, the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff has decided to weigh their options.
“We are definitely still working on some plans,” said Dr. Robert Carr, UAPB Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs. “First and foremost we are trying to make sure that whatever we do we think about the students, faculty staff and their parents' safety.”
While the tentative date is set for late summer, Carr said that all can change. With an average of 375 graduates each year, Carr said several options have been discussed on how to safely honor their graduates.
“If we aren’t able to have a face to face ceremony, we are thinking about maybe doing a virtual ceremony or giving our students the option of coming to our winter ceremony in December,” said Carr. “If that doesn’t work for their schedule they can come to our 2021 Spring Ceremony.”
Key said over the weekend that waiting until after July 1 may be a disappointment but it provides certainty for schools that they know that there is a time in the future that they can look forward to.
The state’s concern is the risk of spreading COVID-19 due to the large number of guests who attend graduation ceremonies.
“We celebrate the accomplishments of these students but we also look forward to their opportunities of the future,” said Key. “When you have friends and family members coming from across the state, and in many cases from out-of-state for a traditional graduation ceremony, we simply cannot mitigate sufficiently the risk of spread in a situation like that.”
While Carr says, UAPB is in the “wait and see” mode, he says he will monitor and keep a close watch on what is working for other schools and colleges. Another option Carr said he has been contemplating is whether the ceremony should be held indoors or out.
“We are accessing two options, whether to have it at the convention center or to have it at our stadium and that’s still up for grabs,” said Carr. “We haven’t thought through what will be the best venue but we know whatever venue we choose, we want it to be the safest possible outcome.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention latest mass gathering guidelines list determining factors when deciding to postpone or cancel large gatherings.
• The overall number of attendees. Larger gatherings (for example, more than 250 people) offer more opportunities for person-to-person contact and therefore pose greater risk of COVID-19 transmission.
• The number of people attending who are at greater risk of more serious illness after contracting COVID-19. Older adults and persons with severe pre-existing health conditions are thought to be at increased risk.
• The density of attendees within a confined area. Based on what is currently known about the virus, spread from person-to-person happens most frequently among close contacts (within 6 feet).
• The potential economic impact to participants, attendees, staff, and the larger community.
• The level of transmission in your local community and the level of transmission in the areas from which your attendees will travel. To better understand the level of community transmission in your community (and in the communities from which your attendees will be traveling), consult with your local and/or state public health department.
• If there are ways in which to significantly reduce the number of attendees. For example, for sporting events or school concerts, organizers could consider holding the event but significantly reduce the number of audience members.
At a minimal-to-moderate level of community transmission, it is recommended to:
• Cancel community-wide mass gatherings (for example, less than 250 people; the cutoff threshold is at the discretion of community leadership based on the current circumstances the community is facing and the nature of the event) or move to smaller groupings.
• Cancel gatherings of more than 10 people for organizations that serve higher-risk populations
Key said there are a number of techniques that other schools have already explored to celebrate their seniors such as remotely and by video while taking into consideration, the social distancing and mass gathering guidelines.
The phases presented by the White House to open up America again enforce social distancing, and Key explains that following the guidelines and directives will be instrumental as he looks at graduation proposals from Arkansas schools.
“A graduation, just with the family members, that gets to 10 or more people very quickly,” said Key.
Carr said the idea of a caravan processional was also an option.
“We have thought about having small groups come across the stage from their cars,” said Carr. “You have 10 cars at a time with their relatives in there who come to a specific spot. The 10 graduates get out and get their degrees and then go back into their processional.”
Carr said a high school in Clinton Mississippi is having a similar graduation, which he will observe to see what their results are.
“We are kind of looking all over the country to see what the best practices are,” said Carr. “We are not limiting ourselves to the southeast. We really need to know what the best practices are all over.”
As planning and preparation begins, Carr said details of the event will line up with the guidelines and directives of the CDC and the ADH.
CDC discourages the actions of handshakes, which COVID-19 can be transmitted from person to person. CDC also recommends that supplies for event staff and participants, such as hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, tissues, trash baskets, disposable facemasks, and cleaners and disinfectants are available.
“If we have a ceremony in August, and I’ll talk to our Student Affairs Vice Chancellor, the plan would be to have masks available,” said Carr. “We would also space the chairs according to the social distancing guidelines.”
While Carr may not be sure about the details of the ceremony, one thing he is sure about is that UAPB graduates will be honored with a graduation ceremony.