Members of the Winder-Barrow and Apalachee high school classes of 2020 will get a chance to walk across the graduation stage after all — at least some of them.
After Barrow County School System officials last week canceled the traditional ceremonies it had tentatively scheduled for the schools this week — as coronavirus cases continued to spike locally and across Georgia — groups of parents from both schools quickly organized alternate ceremonies at Innovation Amphitheater next to the school system’s Sims Academy of Innovation. The ceremony for the Winder-Barrow graduates was set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, and the Apalachee ceremony will be held at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 30.
Strict protocols will be in effect, organizers said, including a requirement that all attendees wear masks, socially distance and be seated at least six feet apart. Guests will also be limited as the maximum capacity for the events will be 500 people each night. Golden Productions, the event manager for the venue, set the parameters in compliance with the state’s current coronavirus restrictions and will be enforcing them, organizers said.
Gov. Brian Kemp’s most recent executive order outlining the restrictions still requires that public gatherings of more than 50 people be prohibited unless at least six feet of space between each person can be guaranteed at all times. It also lays out numerous operational requirements for “non-critical infrastructure” businesses such as performance venues like the amphitheater to adhere to. Mandatory temperature checks, hand sanitation stations and other measures will also be in place.
After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of all of Georgia’s public schools in March for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year, the Barrow County School System opted to hold “virtual ceremonies” on the originally-scheduled graduation dates, and faculty at the schools hand-delivered diplomas to the graduates at their homes. District officials had also hoped to hold the traditional ceremonies this week, if conditions warranted. But as cases have continued to rise, they determined it would not be safe to do so and that, with the prospect of at least 2,000 people at each high school stadium, virus-mitigation measures would be difficult to enforce.
Still, the decision last week prompted strong backlash from several parents and graduates, but superintendent Chris McMichael said he met with some of the parents and the district informally assisted with the alternate ceremonies, including helping to secure the venue. While the district is not officially sanctioning the events, McMichael said he and other officials are “OK with it” and the measures that will be in place. He said he, the schools’ principals and other representatives from the district plan to attend.
The ceremonies are not expected to draw all of the 437 Winder-Barrow and 411 Apalachee graduates from the classes. Around 150 AHS graduated had confirmed their plans to attend as of Monday’s deadline. An exact figure for the WBHS ceremony was not available.
The number of graduates who do attend will dictate the number of guests each graduate is allowed. Those who aren’t able to attend will be able to view the ceremonies on a livestream via Vimeo and Facebook.
For all information on the ceremonies, graduates and family members can go to the Facebook groups “Winder Barrow Class of 2020 Seniors and Parents” and “Apalachee High School Class of 2020 Parents and Students.”