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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Fort Smith Public Schools update graduation ceremony options...again

Fort Smith Public Schools continues to plan for safe graduation ceremonies and is providing an update to graduating seniors and their families in light of

current circumstances.

Graduation Updates Timeline

● On March 23, FSPS shared on its COVID-19 Updates Page that graduation might be postponed because of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) and the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) COVID-19 restrictions on large


● On March 25, FSPS sent a Graduation survey via text message to seniors. Those who responded said they preferred to participate in some kind of traditional graduation ceremony and did not want to have a virtual graduation ceremony.

● On April 10, FSPS provided potential dates for a traditional graduation experience. These dates were June 29 and June 30, with reserved dates of July 6 and July 7 in the event the ceremony dates needed to be moved again.

● On May 7, FSPS received guidance from DESE and ADH that the district would not be able to host any form of traditional ceremony before July 1. FSPS cancelled the June 29 and 30 dates and moved forward with plans for the July 6 and July 7 graduation option.

● On June 15, FSPS sent a second Graduation survey via text message to seniors to understand how many plan to participate in the late graduation ceremonies. 77% of Southside respondents and 80% of Northside respondents said they will participate in graduation ceremonies regardless of time, location and order of ceremony.

Dr. Rathbun, Northside High School Principal, Dr. Miller, Southside High School Principal, and Dr. McDonald, FSPS Director of Secondary Education, have been working on a number of options. Last week, FSPS outlined some of the difficulties with on-field graduation ceremonies.

Considering these factors, graduation ceremonies at the Convention Center may be one of the most viable options. Drs. Miller, Rathbun and McDonald are working with the Convention Center representatives to organize a beautiful and memorable event for the Northside and

Southside Classes of 2020 while adhering to the strict physical distancing guidelines.

Here are a few details regarding this proposal:

● Graduates may sign up for a specific hour to participate in their respective ceremony.

● Families may accompany their graduates through the graduation line.

● The event begins as the graduate and family enter the Convention Center at the South Rotunda. Each graduate and family member will be screened upon entry and then move as a group through the convention hallways.

● The graduation ceremony in progress in the North Rotunda and graduation speakers will be broadcast to televisions spaced along the hallways.

● Families may visit with one another as long as physical distance is maintained among the different groups.

● Activities for graduates and their families will be set up along the way.

● Once the graduate and family arrive in the North Rotunda, the family will be invited to observe as their graduate walks across the stage to receive a well-earned diploma from the principal, the superintendent and the school board.

● A professional photographer will be set up to capture these graduation highlights, so that families do not have to do so.

This plan is approved by the Arkansas Department of Health and the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education for FSPS. However, the district is waiting on word of a final approval that ust be submitted by the Fort Smith Convention Center. Other plans may be submitted.

July 6 and 7 are only a few days away. As a result, it appears appropriate to postpone graduations again.

Another set of make-up dates can be selected once more options are examined and documented in more detail. The district has reserved July 16-17, August 10-11, and December 17-18 with the Fort Smith Convention Center for this purpose.

It is also possible that FSPS could host graduation at the Convention Center sometime in July and provide a more-traditional option at the schools in the future.

Fort Smith Public Schools will continue to advise seniors and their families as details and plans solidify. We thank our seniors for their continued support and patience, and look forward to celebrating with them soon.

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