There will be no start-you-engines metaphors at this year’s high school graduations, no blustery winds and speeches and car parades in the cavernous bowels of the Speedway, as was the case last May. The Flagler County School District is working on the assumption that Flagler Palm Coast High’s and Matanzas High School’s graduations will return to the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, and will take place on June 2.
That’s assuming pandemic tempers remain in check and the coronavirus’s unpredictable path doesn’t yield new surprises between now and then.
“Graduation is still moving forward, both high schools’ activity coordinators are working together,” Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt told the School Board Tuesday. The Ocean Center has been reserved for June 2. “There will be limited seating, but we are getting better return on that, there’s going to be more opportunity for our families to attend with their grads, and yes it will be livestreamed, so we’re in a really good place there with graduation.”
By then FPC is expected to have a new permanent principal in place of interim Bobby Bossardet, who stepped in after the death of Principal Tom Russell in December. The district is opening the job to applicants later this week.
Last year graduation for the two high schools was held at the International Speedway, where families were limited to one vehicle each, students were required to remain in their vehicles (or near them), and the distribution of diplomas was carried out by school officials on foot and students in their cars, streaming by. The two schools’ graduates took what amounted to victory laps, crossing the Speedway’s literal finish line.
Proms are also in the works at both high schools, but those are being organized separately and will also look different, with more “sit-down dinners” type events, Mittelstadt said.
Colleges and schools across the country are wrestling with graduation plans–whether to stick with last year’s alternative models or hold them in person, with different approaches depending on the region.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Monday issued guidelines clearing the way for in-person graduations at public and private schools. Capacity limits are in effect for indoor events. There are no capacity limits if events are held outdoors and social distancing is enforced. In both cases, prohibitions on food and drink and enforced, as are mask requirements. Graduates will be allowed to walk across a stage, individually, but they will not be receiving physical diplomas, to minimize the transfer of potential viruses. And the playing of brass and wind instruments is discouraged. Graduates and guests are to be screened for covid-19, with staggered times for entry and exit of all participants to avoid crowding. (See the full guidelines here.)
In a Texas school district, it took a student petition to get the local school board to agree to an in-person graduation ceremony. In colleges and universities, there will be “Less Pomp, More Circumstance,” as the publication Inside Higher Ed headlined it last month, with large stadiums coming in handy for some socially distanced ceremonies, though many colleges are again sticking with virtual ceremonies, as they did last year.
The University of Florida has tentative plans for in-person ceremonies, including make-up ceremonies for 2020 graduates, but with a caveat: ” Our in-person Make-Up 2020 ceremonies will occur only if the threat of Covid-19 is overcome through the widespread administration of a vaccine,” the university cautions on its Graduation page. “If that does not happen, we will further postpone them. We urge our graduates and guests to plan accordingly, building as much flexibility as possible into travel arrangements and lodging reservations.”
Currently almost a quarter of Florida’s population has gotten at least one shot of the vaccine, 13 percent has completed its vaccination protocol. In Flagler, 30 percent of the population has been vaccinated, and 17 percent have completed their shots. But so far the shots have gone overwhelmingly, if not almost exclusively, to older residents, as Gov. Ron DeSantis had limited vaccines to those 65 and over before lowering the age limit to 50 last Monday. So most college students would not have been vaccinated.
Meanwhile new covic infections continue at an average rate of 5,000 a day in the state, and at a very elevated rate of 150 a week in Flagler–nowhere near the sort of numbers that suggest the pandemic is in retreat, and significantly higher than when the county was preparing to hold its graduation ceremonies last spring. Hospitalizations related to covid were on the rise again this week, with 16 people hospitalized at AdventHealth Palm Coast with a primary diagnosis of covid, the highest number in over a month.