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UPDATED: High school graduation dates could be affected by virus

While high school graduation ceremonies are about 12 weeks away, the uncertainty of the impact of the coronavirus has area school districts beginning to think about alternative plans.

Students across the region are taking classes online, and there is no indication when or if they will return to their schools before June. Some relatives and friends of graduating seniors, meanwhile, must look ahead to make travel plans or modify work schedules to make sure they can be in attendance.

And parents and teachers organizing the alcohol-free, all-night graduation parties that have become popular over the past three decades are wondering if they will have to cancel their reservations and try to reschedule on short notice.

Groton Superintendent Michael Graner said his school district is ordering caps and gowns with the hope graduation will still be held June 19.

He said, however, that much depends on the coronavirus situation at the time and whether the district gets the go-ahead from the local health district and the governor to hold graduation. If it doesn’t get approval, then the school district may have to postpone graduation.

“We’re bound and determined to have a graduation,” said Graner, whether it’s in September or at another date.

“The teachers miss the kids, and the kids miss the teachers, and it’s really something socially we need to have,” he added.

He also said that the school district is trying to honor end-of-the-year activities for students. The hope is to still hold them, but it all depends on social distancing recommendations and the situation at the time.

In a letter to seniors and parents last week, Stonington Superintendent of Schools Van Riley promised that there will be a graduation ceremony for students.

He said that while school officials “hold out slight hope for a graduation ceremony on June 19, we want you to know your diplomas will be granted on that day even if we need to postpone the ceremony.”

“If we are not able to share in the celebration on June 19th, I want you to know we will hold a ceremony for you and your families as soon as possible in the future. It is premature to set a future graduation date as the health crisis continues to change daily and we are not certain the June 19th date must change,” he wrote. “I can say with certainty that your graduation ceremony will occur. The ceremony will take place at Stonington High School and you and your families will be invited. Depending on the date and other circumstances, we will do everything possible to find creative ways for your guests who are not able to attend in person to do so virtually.”

At Norwich Free Academy, spokesman Mike O’Farrell said there have been no discussions yet about graduation until more is known about when students will be returning.

In addition, at every graduation, NFA welcomes back the class that graduated 50 years ago for its reunion and its members walk in to the ceremony with the graduating seniors.

“The reunion is always part of graduation, so that would likely be discussed at the appropriate time, too. The focus right now is ensuring a continuity of learning,” O’Farrell said.

In North Stonington, Superintendent of Schools Peter Nero, may have one of the more creative approaches to an eventual graduation ceremony. He said that if students can return to class before the end of the school year, caps and gowns will be ordered and the traditional ceremony will be held. If not, Nero said an option would be to hold a less formal ceremony at the high school before graduates head off to college but let them wear summer attire such as shorts.      

In Ledyard, Superintendent Jay Hartling and Principal Amanda Fagan agreed they want to make sure the seniors have their special day and that it was too early to make a decision on changing graduation from June 19. With the situation changing daily, Hartling said they wouldn't be able to make an informed decision until probably early June, and canceling any sooner would be a disservice to the students.

In Waterford, where the projected last day of school is June 18, Superintendent Thomas Giard III said that per school board policy, the graduation date is not officially set each year until the board meets on April 23.

In Montville, Superintendent Laurie Pallin said the school district is planning on holding graduation as scheduled.

No information was available from East Lyme, North Stonington or New London.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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