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Graduation ceremonies to be held outdoors

Graduation ceremonies at Lakeland, King’s Fork and Nansemond River high schools will be held outdoors in June, after drive-through ones were held last year earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III said the division has been simultaneously planning three different types of graduation ceremonies depending on health metrics and state directives.

They included the traditional ceremony held indoors at Old Dominion University’s Ted Constant Convocation Center, in which all three graduations are typically held on the same day, a drive-through ceremony at each school in which graduates pick up their diplomas while riding in their vehicles, and then the one they chose – an outdoor graduation ceremony to be held at each school’s football stadium on separate days.

The outdoor ceremonies are scheduled for June 9 at Lakeland, June 10 at King’s Fork and June 11 at Nansemond River. Each ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. The rain date is June 12, and if more than one ceremony is rained out and needs to be rescheduled, one will be at 9 a.m. and the other at 7 p.m.

Since school will still be in session on the regular graduation dates, the school holding graduation will be virtual that day.

“I really think they deserve this opportunity,” said Dr. Ron Leigh, director of secondary leadership.

Bottled water will be available, and each site will have an air-conditioned space available if needed. Suffolk Fire and Rescue EMTs will be available either on site or within seven to 10 minutes away if needed. There will also be hand sanitizer available, and extra masks will be available for those who forget.

No one will be allowed to congregate before, during or after the ceremony, and non-staff members must leave the school campus immediately following the ceremony. The Suffolk Police Department will be directing traffic coming and going to the ceremonies.

Each graduate will receive two tickets to the ceremony and five programs. Each graduate will also receive a free senior class T-shirt, a free class of 2021 yard sign and two 8×10 inch cap and gown photos.

Per an executive order from Gov. Ralph Northam, outdoor graduation ceremonies can have up to 5,000 people or 30% of the facility’s capacity, whichever is lower. For indoor ceremonies, capacity is capped at 500 people or 30% capacity, whichever is lower.

Everyone in attendance will still have to wear masks and practice social distancing. Those entering and exiting the ceremony will do so through separate areas, and tickets will be color-coded to designate which area people will enter and exit the stadium, and where they will park, according to Leigh. Designated seating areas will be marked in the bleachers.

“They still have to wear masks,” said Leigh, who briefed the School Board of the plan during its April 15 meeting.”Even though it’s probably going to be warm, they still have to wear masks, and social distancing will be strictly enforced.”

Principals for each high school will be presenting their graduation plans to school division administration by April 26.

The division plans to use the NFHS Network to stream each ceremony for free to anyone who wants to watch. Family members will be able to set up a free account to watch and hear the graduation ceremony, which Gordon expects to be complete in about an hour.

Currently, Lakeland is anticipating 260 graduates, King’s Fork 370 and Nansemond River 420.

The summer school graduation ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 5 inside the auditorium at King’s Fork High School.

“We are really excited,” Leigh said, “about the ability to provide this for parents and the students.”