The Wethersfield School Board, like their counterparts across America, is grappling with when and how to hold high school graduation amid COVID-19 restrictions.


This year's date for Wethersfield was Sunday, May 17, which the board, months ago, knew would not happen. Tentative plans, which were contingent on the progress of getting the pandemic under control, were set for an outdoor ceremony June 25 on the football field, where physical distancing would be possible.


At Tuesday night's May board meeting, however, it was apparent that date would also have to be scrapped in order to comply with Illinois Department of Health, Illinois State Board of Education guidelines, and Gov. Pritzker's orders for reopening the state.


According to those guidelines, the region in which Henry County is located would be in Phase 4, which limits gatherings to 50 people, by the time school resumes Aug. 17. None of the state will be able to have a wider opening until it reaches Phase 5, which mandates that a vaccine has been found and no cases are reported. Board President Dan Bryan read a letter from a senior parents committee asking that the board make every effort to push the graduation date to Saturday, Aug. 15, pointing out that walking across the stage and receiving a diploma is a "seminal moment" in the lives of seniors and their families.


After discussing several options, the board decided to move in the direction of a tentative virtual graduation, the early plans for which have already begun. With it, each of the 39 seniors, in caps and gowns, would be given a time to come to the gym and be videotaped walking across the stage to receive their diploma. Valedictorians and salutatorians would be taped giving their speeches at the podium when they receive their diploma. Awards and scholarships would be announced and presented by high school principal Carrie Griffith, with still photos of each student shown accepting their honor which would be taken during the videotaping session. The graduation speaker, retired junior high math teacher Tammy Jackson, would also be videotaped. IT Director Jason Phelps, with the facilities of the Media Production Department, would edit the individual pieces into a virtual graduation which would be shown on the school district's Facebook page, Victor E. Goose, at a pre-announced time allowing anyone to see the "ceremony" from their homes.


Phelps said DVDs of the first-ever virtual graduation at WHS will be made for each senior as a keepsake and remembrance of the occasion for the rest of their lives. Mrs. Jackson has created a special video for the seniors which will be posted on the Facebook page on the day and time the graduation would have been held, 2 p.m., Sunday, May 17.


Griffith also pointed out that the longer the time seniors are out of school, the more move on with their plans to join the military or go off to college, if open.


The last day of e-learning for seniors was Friday, May 8. The last day of school for underclassmen was Tuesday, May 12. Prom, which had been rescheduled for June 13 at The Stables, has been cancelled, eighth grade promotion, which had been rescheduled for June 23, has been cancelled and will be replaced with an assembly when school hopefully resumes in August. A banner welcoming the Class of 2024 to high school, with the name of each of the 41 eighth graders, has been attached to the fence on Garfield Street just east of Tenney Street. Individual banners with the names and photos of each senior in the Class of 2020 have been attached to the fence along Tenney. Plans for a virtual Project Graduation are being made by senior parents. Holding out hope that the pandemic may sufficiently subside in this part of the state to allow safe management of outdoor space, the board set its June 11 meeting as the last possible date to consider anything but a virtual graduation.


Griffith said when seniors came to pick up and drop off items "I saw a lot of tears." Board member Steve Newman, a senior parent, said "All they want to do is walk across that stage and get their diploma. It's something they've dreamed about for years. The closest we can get to that may be virtual reality."


Supt. Kazubowski said, "I wish we could snap our fingers and go back to normal, but I'm afraid it will take longer than that."