While Verona Area School District staff are still holding out hope there might be enough changes in COVID-19 regulations to hold an in-person graduation in July, their attention has been more focused on the virtual graduation ceremony.
In April, Verona Area High School principal Pam Hammen proposed moving the in-person graduation ceremony to Saturday, July 25, the latest date it could take place for the Class of 2020. It’s likely a virtual graduation will be launched that day instead, as COVID-19 restrictions have changed since then, superintendent Dean Gorrell told the school board at its Monday, June 1, meeting.
At the time Hammen announced the in-person graduation plan, the date and guidance on reopening was based on the state’s Safer at Home order and the Badger Bounce Back plan, both of which were struck down by the state Supreme Court.
In its place came the county’s Forward Dane plan, which allows businesses and society to open in a calculated fashion based on nine health-based metrics, including the ability to maintain a small percentage of positive test results, available testing for healthcare workers and having contact tracing and fast test results. Even if the county reaches Phase III of the plan, which has the least amount of restrictions, mass gatherings are limited to 100 people indoors, or 250 people outdoors.
Once it reaches Phase III, the county will stay under those restrictions until a vaccine is widely available.
Gorrell said there are only two ways the district would be able to hold an in-person graduation ceremony – either the reopening plan would have to be deemed unconstitutional and be removed, or an exception would need to be granted to allow it to proceed.
Gorrell said Epic’s Deep Space auditorium, where graduation ceremonies have been held for the last 12 years, is large enough where they could require families to maintain distance from one another. That would require approval from Epic, he said.
Board members pushed to do a virtual-only graduation, as the conversation came during the middle of discussing how the district was planning to reopen for the fall. The main concern from board members was how the district could feasibly hold an in-person graduation with thousands in attendance during the summer, only to turn about and launch an anticipated hybrid model of education a little more than a month later at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
“If we are feeling like we can’t open our buildings and we’re not going to reopen fully, why are we thinking it’s even likely that we can have 1,500 people together for a graduation in July?” board member Carolyn Jahnke said.