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Graduation of a different kind

Students turned in their work packets Tuesday, May 5. Shown accepting the packets at the front of the school are, from left, assistant principals Kevin Everett and Randall Jackson, and special education aide Jonathan Barnes who volunteered to help.

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This is the plan – Thursday, May 21, 92 graduates will walk across the stage at Escambia County High School and they will receive their diplomas. But they will not be together, nor will their families.
ECHS principal Amy Cabaniss, Flomaton High School principal Scott Hammond, and W.S. Neal High School principal Matthew Hodge have worked out a plan all three schools will follow on the day graduation was originally set at each school.
And it will follow guidelines set out by the Alabama Department of Education, the Escambia County Board of Education, CDC and Gov. Kay Ivey.
So, this year, what works for a large graduation?
The auditorium? No, the governor’s latest resolution (May 8), while relaxing many restrictions in the state, specifies that auditoriums are to remain closed.
The football stadium? Social distancing is still recommended. Six feet for the families of 92 graduates? Even with families sitting together and apart from other families, that’s impossible.
A full, traditional graduation could possibly be held in a couple of months, however, that’s not a good plan either.
“There was the possibility graduation could be held maybe in the middle of July,” Cabaniss said. “But we have eight students going to the military. Some are moving away. We could have pushed it back but we’d risk excluding some really great kids who would not be able to attend.”
Cabaniss knows no plan is going to please everyone. She said she and the other principals and Superintendent of Education John Knott are working to keep students, families and school staff as safe as possible.
Students pick up their caps and gowns Friday, May 15. Detailed instructions for each student will be given at the time of cap and gown pick-up.
Students at all three schools were given three options for commencement. This was the overwhelming choice. So, here’s the plan.
Each graduate and four guests will report to the school at an appointed time. Top 10 students will be first.
In five-minute intervals, they’ll be in the area outside the media center (restrooms nearby), then move to staging area 2 – the area in the main entryway, then go to the lobby area. This area will be set up for graduates and family members to take their own pictures prior to entering the auditorium for their graduation ceremony.
With guests going down a side aisle, the student will go down the center aisle and cross the stage to pick up his/her diploma. Guests will not be able to sit down because the area cannot be sanitized after each group. School photographer Leslie Sellers will take pictures to send to graduates at no charge. When this is finished, graduate and guests will go out the side door.
The process begins at 8 a.m. and should end about 3 p.m. A video will be made of each graduate and will be compiled for viewing on YouTube and Facebook that night at 7 p.m. – the date and time when graduation would have taken place.
Former principal Dennis Fuqua, who resigned in December to take a new position, will hand out the diplomas, with assistance from Cabaniss. Fuqua was principal for this class’ four years except for the last few months.
The process will be one way all the way through with school personnel on hand to assist.
“This is not going to be an easy process,” Cabaniss said. “It’s not supposed to be easy; it’s supposed to be right. These kids have lost so much. To people who are critical, I can only say the students understand. We are doing what is best for these ninety-two seniors. We are not going to make one hundred percent of people happy. We’re doing what’s right with our seniors, all of them.”