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Harlan schools announce graduation plans

Harlan County’s two high schools recently announced their plans for the schools’ 2020 graduation ceremonies, which included a mix of virtual and traditional ceremonies.

C.D. Morton, superintendent of the Harlan Independent School District, said he and his staff are planning two “special events” to help mark this milestone in his seniors lives during a Facebook live update.

“First, we’ll be conducting a virtual graduation for our seniors and their families. Hosted in our normal graduation spot (Harlan Baptist Church), each senior and their family will get the opportunity of walking across this stage and receiving their diploma,” he said.

Morton said his team will record each element of their ceremony to be broadcast via Facebook and during a follow-up ceremony to be held on May 16 at 1 p.m. in the Harlan Center parking lot.

“In addition to the virtual graduation, Harlan High School seniors and their families will gather together as the ‘Family of Dragons’ for a drive-in ceremony in the Harlan Center parking lot,” Morton said. “Following social distancing guidelines and protocols, our families will gather together to witness all of our seniors walk across the graduation stage. We’ll conclude the afternoon with an event called ‘Parade of Dragons,’ so get ready to paint those cars and make some noise for this year’s graduating class of 2020.”

Morton added specific, detailed guidelines and directions are in the works and will be shared with each family within the next few days. He said the school’s staff will also be reaching out to schedule each students’ time at the Harlan Baptist Church.

“We are determined to make the most of a terrible situation for our students and families, so stay tuned for more information in the coming days. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Harlan High School at 606-573-8700.”

On Thursday, the Harlan County School District Board of Education heard from a number of their seniors regarding Harlan County High School’s graduation ceremony, with HCHS principal Kathy Minor presenting results from an online poll utilized for the seniors to express their wishes.

“I believe the seniors’ voices have been heard,” said Minor. “I wanted to offer them a fair way to let their wishes be known.”

According to the results, 159 members of the class (71 percent) voted. A total of 93 students (58.5 percent) voted for a formal/traditional graduation to be held when COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted.

The Gulfport model proposal, allowing students to graduate in person individually or in small groups, received 42 votes (27 percent) of the ballots cast, and a drive-up graduation proposal requiring students to remain in their car with immediate family members had 23 votes (14.5 percent).

Minor said the poll required registration to document the authenticity that votes counted to be only those from the current senior class. She added the administration will schedule the graduation as early as possible, hopefully prior to the start of the next school year, and the football field is a viable option for the ceremony when restrictions for larger gatherings are eased.

“We are making the commitment to hold a formal, traditional graduation ceremony when a date can be set in compliance with the current restrictions concerning COVID-19,” said Minor. “This date may be summer, Labor Day weekend, Christmas break or next spring. It might even be necessary to do the 2020 graduation on the Saturday prior to the 2021 graduation on Sunday next May.

“Regardless of the date, the class of 2020 will have a traditional graduation ceremony. Statewide seniors have indicated they are willing to wait to have their graduation in a traditional setting.”

Roark and members of the board were in agreement to comply with the results of the balloting denoting the wishes of the majority of the members of the senior class.

“We want to do what the students want us to do,” said Roark. “They should have a strong say so.”

The following list was given from the Harlan County School District regarding their upcoming plans for 2020 seniors:

  • Virtual Graduation Ceremony, featuring a senior picture slideshow. Ceremony will be shown at a specific date/time via YouTube link. This will be announced in advance;
  • Valedictorians’ speech video: Each valedictorian will record speeches to their classmates, family and friends. These recordings will be compiled in a video to highlight students’ accomplishment as valedictorian (YouTube link);
    Message to seniors from the HCHS faculty and staff: Video recording of staff members wishing our seniors good luck, words of encouragement and support (YouTube link);
  • Honors’ Night recognition video: Seniors who were awarded scholarships or recognition will be featured with their senior picture and a list of award(s) they received (YouTube link). This will be announced in advance;
    A commitment to hold a formal, traditional graduation ceremony when a date can be set in compliance with the current restrictions concerning COVID-19. This date may be summer, Labor Day weekend, Christmas break or next year;
  • A senior packet will be put together for each senior to pick up. Packets will contain all video footage, a 5×7 cap and gown picture (or any senior picture available), the student’s diploma and a 2019-20 graduation program;
    Senior pictures featured in the Harlan Enterprise and the Tri-City News. Pictures appearing in the Enterprise and Tri-City News will be laminated and posted in various local businesses;
    All video recordings will be shown on the local community access channel and will be available online through YouTube.