Schools look for graduation solutions in light of closure

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 17, 2020 4:49 PM CT | Published: April 16, 2020 6:33 PM CT

Germantown and Millington school districts still are hoping to celebrate graduating seniors traditionally despite school closures the remainder of the semester.

Within a day of Gov. Bill Lee urging schools to remain closed, suburban districts recognized the seniors’ milestone deserved celebration. However, they respective systems are grappling with the safety of festivities as local health officials expect a surge in late May or early June.

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“We are committed to having a graduation in a traditional way,” Jason Manuel, superintendent of the Germantown Municipal School District, said in a statement. “If we can’t do that, then we will try to do the next best things to give our seniors the kind of memories they deserve. ... This historic crisis will not interrupt our seniors’ next steps, and the Class of 2020 will do amazing things in the future.”

<strong>Jason Manuel</strong>

Jason Manuel

In person festivities are contingent upon guidelines restricting large gatherings, Manuel noted. Germantown, which has only one high school — Houston High — hopes to communicate its plan with families next week.

Millington Superintendent Bo Griffin said the North Shelby County district is still working on a plan.

“We are still going to try and have a graduation ceremony in June if we can,” Griffin said, noting they would utilize the high school’s football field.

Other districts aren’t sure.

Arlington Superintendent Tammy Mason, who is retiring this summer, sent a letter to parents soon after the governor’s announcement.

“Like you, this is not how I wanted this school year to end,” Mason stated. “It’s not lost on me how this will affect all of our students, particularly our Class of 2020 seniors and the moments they were looking forward to and the memories they were hoping to make.”

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All school activities and events are canceled, but Mason ensured parents the district wants to celebrate seniors’ accomplishments.

<strong>Tammy Mason</strong>

Tammy Mason

“Ideas include possibly rescheduling in the summer months or via a virtual method. ... Please know we will not let our seniors leave high school without being recognized for this incredible life moment.”

Collierville has a committee that is discussing how to safely celebrate more than 700 seniors, Jeff Jones, Collierville’s chief of staff, said. He recognized if the district waits too long some seniors may be out of town or will have started their next step. Town leaders are also looking to uniquely celebrate the Class of 2020.

Bartlett has not commented on its plans` for the seniors class, but leaders will contact parents as decisions are made in the coming weeks. Bartlett Superintendent David Stephens was unavailable to comment on Thursday.

Kaelyn White is one senior who awaits to hear a decision from Bartlett High School.

She’s working on optional class work. While she awaits future decisions, she doubts the district will host a formal graduation ceremony.

“I don’t think it’s going to be safe,” she said.

Her next class will be at Arkansas Tech University, where she will study vocal education.

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School classes ended March 13. The next week was spring break, and schools remained closed. She and seniors across the state watched dates go by on the calendar.

The first major event for White was spring play practice. She had a lead as Penny Pinkleton in “Hairspray,” and her best friend was cast as Tracy Turnblad. The performance dates have passed.

“We lost that,” she said.

She watched end-of-the-year events canceled one at a time.

“We have a senior drive-by on the last day of school,” she said. “All the seniors get in their cars and drive around in the parking lot honking. We have a senior picnic. We go on the football field and just have a big ol’ picnic together.”

Usually after graduation, Bartlett seniors hold a lock-in at Putt-Putt Fun Center, but that she recognized may not happen.

A choir camp she attends in July may be the biggest disappointment. It is already canceled.

“This one has been really hard,” she said. “I have a lot of friends I only get to see once a year. It’s a week long, and it’s just an amazing program. I love it so much. It’s my favorite week of the entire year. It getting canceled really hurt the most. I know they’re doing it just to be safe, but it’s not until July.”

She said camp’s cancellation made her realize “we are in this for the long haul.”

She wonders when she will return to her job at Old Navy. Orientation was done virtually for Arkansas Tech’s arts department.

In the midst of it all, her school friends communicate and talk about how they are feeling.

“Some days some of us are angry. Some of us are sad. Some of us are over it,” she said. “We’re all seniors.”

She joked one of the friends finally picked her college, which was a welcome positive note.

White is still involved in her church — First Evangelical Church — and her youth group. Her youth leaders have been extremely supportive and it’s provided some comfort, she added.

“They’ve said ‘Hey seniors, we know this is supposed to be your last year, and everything just got thrown out the window. If you need anything talk to us.’ ”

Talking with her parents and her faith have brought her comfort in the midst of this difficult season.

“It’s been hard,” she said. “I am still trying to find something that makes sense. … I am praying everyday. I know (coronavirus) is for a bigger purpose and that’s the most comforting thing.”

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All districts said remote learning will continue. According to temporary policies passed by the state Board of Education last week, districts can not issue grades lower than March 20th standings. Some districts will communicate information about remedial course work that may be needed.

Information about retrieving belongings from school, returning school-issued devices and grades will be communicated in future weeks.


Germantown Municipal School District Millington Municipal Schools Arlington Community Schools Collierville Schools Bartlett City Schools Tammy Mason Jason Manuel Bo Griffin Jeff Jones coronavirus COVID-19 Bill Lee school closure
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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