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‘Our hearts are breaking for these kids’

Graduation options discussed at school board meeting

Times Observer file photo Seth Baldensperger ‘helps’ Kylee Barnes with her graduation cap prior to the Warren Area High School class of 2017’s processional at First Lutheran Church to Struthers Library Theatre. On Monday, the school board met virtually and discussed options for graduation and ways to recognize the senior class in Warren County School District in the midst of the COVID-19 school closures and social-distancing guidelines.

The school board is working on ways to recognize the senior class in the midst of a pandemic.

In addition to its usual monthly business, the board talked at Monday’s regular meeting about graduation, photos, yearbooks, and other important parts of seniors’ experiences.

So far, the instruction from the state regarding graduation is that it is to be held virtually. There has been specific guidance regarding virtual graduation, Superintendent Amy Stewart said.

“Schools may hold virtual high school graduation and other traditional end-of-school-year ceremonies during the COVID-19 closure,” the Pennsylvania Department of Education said in a release to school districts. “The safety and security of all students and school community are a priority for the commonwealth and all chief school administrators. Currently, restrictions on gatherings larger than ten people and aggressive social distancing recommendations are in place across the commonwealth. When closure restrictions are lifted by the Governor, LEAs may consider the appropriateness of holding such gatherings.”

That doesn’t mean the discussion is closed.

“I don’t think anybody’s ruling anything in or out,” Stewart said. “We will have to follow the direction given to us by the governor and the secretary of (education).”

She listed a number of possible social-distancing-appropriate options that have been suggested to her: drive-in, drive-through, a parade, a large venue like Betts Park or a football field, “seniors could have individual appointments to come and get a picture on stage in their cap and gown,” a celebration at a later date — possibly around Thanksgiving when most students will be in the area, pre-recorded speeches, and yard signs.

“We want to make sure we’re doing something responsible,” Stewart said.

She said the district would not be in violation of state-wide regulations if arrangements were made to allow students — maintaining distances — a period of time to be on stage in caps and gowns with diplomas, if the board wants to move in that direction.

The board assigned discussion of the graduation situation to the Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology Committee of the full board.

“If you do have ideas that you want to share feel free to reach out and email those to any board member,” Board President Donna Zariczny said.

Board members are prepared to have to spend more than usual on graduation, if an appropriate idea comes along.

“Whatever we can do,” board member Joe Colosimo said. “If there’s an expense associated with it, we can talk about it. We’ve got to recognize these seniors.”

“I don’t think cost should be an object,” board member Arthur Stewart said. “Let’s spend the money to make up for the sad loss that our seniors are suffering.”

The seniors, in general, are missing out on memories, but specific groups — athletes, musicians, artists, yearbook staff and others — are also losing opportunities.

“Our hearts are breaking for these kids,” Amy Stewart said. “These kids deserve the very best that we can do for them.”

“The ideas keep flowing in,” she said. “I want to encourage people to do that.”

Updates on graduation, proms, grades, yearbooks, lockers, and spring sports, among other topics, will be added to the district’s FAQs — which can be found at www.wcsdpa.org — on Tuesday.

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