Health Department advises against in-person graduation

By Updated: May 28, 2020 6:31 AM CT | Published: May 22, 2020 11:31 AM CT

The county Health Department has advised against in-person graduations, according to a letter from Collierville Schools Superintendent Gary Lilly, thus canceling hopes for a delayed ceremony this summer.

The letter, dated Thursday, May 21 to Collierville High seniors, parents and guardians, stated the Health Department recommendation makes having an event with all the graduates unlikely because of the limitations on people at gatherings. The suburban district hoped to have a June event at Bellevue Baptist Church or, if necessary, move it to July at Dragon Stadium on the high school campus.

Lilly said “neither appears to be a viable option.”

“As recently as (Thursday) afternoon, officials at the Shelby County Health Department recommended against having a single – or even a split – graduation ceremony this summer,” the letter from Lilly said.

According to Lilly, the Health Department advised against the large gathering in June or July, even if the positive coronavirus cases continue to decline.

Joan Carr, a spokeswoman for the Health Department, said gatherings of more than 50 people are not allowed under the current health directive. Health Department officials said the earliest date to enter Phase 3 of the county’s Back to Business plan is June 8, but it could be later.

Jeff Jones, Collierville Schools chief of staff, said the district previously stated its decisions are based on the advice of health officials. And Thursday, letter came after discussiones with Dr. Bruce Randolph, Shelby County Health Department health officer.

“He advised there is no guarantee of when we would move into Phase 3,” Jones said, noting he advised they should move forward with their virtual plans.

Even in Phase 3, gatherings are limited to 250 people but people are still asked to social distance. Randolph told Collierville leaders there is no guarantee large gatherings will be allowed in June or July.


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Lilly is the father of a senior graduating this year. He empathized with parents in his letter.

“We remain steadfast in our desire to celebrate the Collierville High School Class of 2020 and their incredible accomplishments,” Lilly’s letter said.

Collierville has about 650 graduates. Even if they were each allowed two family members, the gathering would be more than 2,000 people with faculty and staff present. Jones noted some districts in other parts of the state have far fewer graduates.

Instead of the previously planned ceremonies, graduates will be assigned a time slot between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on June 3 or June 4. The graduates, who have already picked up their caps and gowns, will walk across the stage in the high school’s Pickler Auditorium to obtain their diploma during the assigned time. Graduates are limited to six family members. The school will record the celebration and stream it June 26 at 7 p.m.

Bartlett High and Arlington High held similar celebrations for seniors. 

Germantown planned a family experience for Houston High seniors next week. Students are scheduled to walk across a stage as families watch from their cars. There will also be various spirit stops along the way. Houston High also planned a celebration at Bellevue. A virtual ceremony, where seniors names were read on the public government channel, aired last week.

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Collierville High School Gary Lilly graduation coronavirus Shelby County Health Department
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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