LIVE OAK, Fla. — The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has closed school campuses and forced the Suwannee County School Board into holding a virtual meeting.
However, during that virtual March 31 meeting — in which the board members were present at the administrative office but the meeting was shown live on the district’s Youtube account — the board and Superintendent Ted Roush said they remain “committed” to holding a real graduation ceremony.
Time, location and format to be determined.
“It’s still to far out to make a decision,” Roush said about the numerous questions received about graduation.
He admitted that if the state mandate to close school campuses has not been lifted, much less the state’s stay-at-home order that is currently in place through April 30, graduation may not occur as scheduled at Langford Stadium.
Rather, he said graduation could be delayed into late June or July or possibly even into early August.
“I’m absolutely dedicated to having a graduation ceremony at some point,” he said, adding that it may become a smaller ceremony with some students opting not to take part, noting some may already have departed for colleges, the military or into their careers.
Board member Tim Alcorn agreed, saying the students deserve a ceremony for the work they’ve put in to earn that diploma.
“They’ve worked their butts off for 13 years, I want them to have that opportunity,” Alcorn said.
Roush said graduation is the top priority when it comes to school events and functions, noting that if proms can’t be held by mid-May, they will likely be canceled.
Still, he told the board members, that the graduations may look way different than in past years when held at Langford Stadium or Buccaneer Stadium.
“If it takes a 500-acre field and people driving in their car and we’re bringing them across a decorated goose-neck trailer with a huge speaker system, there will be a graduation at some point,” he said. “I’m committed to that.”
With schools currently closed through May 1, Ron White, the board member from District 5, asked if it would even be worth it for schools to return to campus for the final few weeks of the school year if allowed.
Roush said the state has given no indication of whether campuses will be reopened this school year, but it would be important for the schools to reopen if permitted.
“We better be working like mad to make sure we’re not so far behind,” he said about students heading into next year.
In the meantime, the district continues to utilize its instructional continuity plan which features online assignments for middle school and high school students that have access to the internet. For those without and students in the lower grades, paper packets are used whether by download, pickup at the schools or delivery on school bus routes.
Roush said the school bus delivery is moving from twice a week to just once, on Mondays, in order to lower the risk of exposure to the virus for both district staff and students and parents. The district is also using the buses to deliver breakfasts and lunches — it delivered 30,000 last week, the district said.
The distance learning plan continues to evolve, Roush admitted. And it isn’t the same type of instruction that students would receive in the classroom. With that in mind, Roush told the board that district wants it to only benefit the students, as long as they are completing the work assigned.
“We’re treating it as an opportunity to enrich their academic status,” he said, noting some students are on the bubble of the various grading scale.
“(But) if you put forth no effort, you certainly won’t be helped.”