Wilmington School Officials Handcuffed By State’s Rules For High School Graduation — In-Person Ceremonies Not Allowed Until July 18

WILMINGTON, MA — The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced late this week that, based on guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Health, all high school graduations before July 18, 2020 must be held virtually or in “extremely limited circumstances,” such as a car parade.

“Ceremonies held beginning July 19, 2020 can take place outside under [strict] standards and assuming public health data supports the continued opening of the state,” wrote Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley in a letter to School Superintendents on Thursday afternoon.

Wilmington High School has a “hybrid” graduation planned for Sunday, June 7, 2020. The ceremony — including speeches and reading of graduates’ names — will take place virtually with assistance from Wilmington Community Television. All graduates will then drive to the high school and receive their diplomas from Principal Linda Peters in a drive-thru-like setup while teachers line the route.

“We obviously not only want to follow the guidelines issued by the state to help maintain safety for all, but also have a larger obligation to do so and make sure that we are complying with the requirements,” wrote Peters in a letter to parents earlier in the week.

Peters sent the letter earlier this week in response to pressure from Wilmington parents and guardians who were asking that a traditional ceremony be held next month.

Nearly 250 residents signed an online petition last week requesting a graduation, with proper social distancing, take place on the Wilmington High School football field, or another suitable location in town, this June.

The petition reads:

“We believe our children have already lost so much during this time and deserve to be celebrated in a somewhat traditional ceremony. The current plan is for students to drive up to receive their diploma at a designated time on June 7th. Then if social distancing guidelines are lifted a more traditional ceremony will be planned at a later date this summer. We find that the current plan doesn’t honor and celebrate the Class of 2020 in the way that they deserve. We’d like to see a social distance graduation ceremony sometime in June. We have 213 students in the graduating class and only ask for an acceptance of 2 guests per student.”

In-Person Graduation Ceremony Possible For Early August

Principal Peters and her team are planning a more traditional shortened ceremony in early August.

Under the state’s restrictions for graduations after July 18, 2020, attendance would be limited to graduates and their immediate family members. Families would need to sign up in advance, and only those who pre-register may attend. Children under the age of 5, older adults, and those with vulnerable health conditions would be discouraged from attending.

All attendees not from the same immediate household would need to be spaced at least 6 feet apart. Graduates would need to enter and exit 6 feet apart from one another in a single line, and then be seated 6 feet apart.

All attendees must wear face coverings before, during, and after the ceremony, unless the attendee has a medical or disabling condition. Speakers would be allowed remove masks during their remarks. For children between ages 2 and 5, the waring of a face covering or mask is at the discretion of the child’s parent or guardian. Any person who refuses to wear a face covering or mask without a valid justification may be denied energy.

The venue — which must be outdoors — would need to be cleaned prior to the ceremony. No communal gatherings or receptions could take place before or after the graduation. No food or drink would be allowed. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers would need to be made available at all entrances and exits.

Graduates would be permitted to walk across the stage individually and turn their tassel in lieu of receiving their diploma. Diplomas and awards could be distributed only if done cautiously (e.g., placing each diploma and aware on a table as the graduate walks by to retrieve it.). Hugging and hand shaking would not be allowed. The ceremony would need to be kept as “brief.”

The Town of Wilmington will be hanging 60 Wildcat flags up and down Middlesex Avenue and Church Street after Memorial Day to honor the WHS Class of 2020.

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