Greene County Schools creates modified graduation plan, families split on decision

Local Coronavirus Coverage

GREENE COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – One Tri-Cities school system is working to ensure each of its graduating seniors is able to celebrate in a graduation ceremony with full cap and gown.

Greene County Schools announced this week that there will be a modified graduation ceremony, but Pheben Kassahun learned families are split about the decision.

Heeding CDC guidelines, Greene County Schools will allow each student to walk across the state in 10-minute increments.

This is to ensure students who are leaving early for military purposes, full-time employment or post-secondary education so that these students would have the chance to savor the moment they have worked hard to accomplish for the last 13 years.

“We’re doing the best we can with the situation that we’re in. We’re trying to involve everyone,” Greene County director of schools David McLain said. “Also, we wanted to keep this plan as close as we could to the original date of graduation.”

A majority of the high schools originally planned for May 15, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The New Plan:

Greene County Schools plans to set aside three days for each high school in the county to film.

According to McLain, graduations will start next week:
Chuckey-Doak High School: May 8, 9 and 16
North Greene High School: May 7, 8 and 9
West Greene High School: May 7, 8 and 9
South Greene High School: May 14, 15 and 16

Each high school principal will be in touch with students to allow scheduling a time for their 10-minute graduation ceremony.

At the ceremony, the student will walk across the stage and receive his or her diploma. Each student will be allowed to have up to 10 family members to be present.

A professional videographer will be recording the entire event including all speeches, pledge, invocation and more, according to McLain.

A professional videographer will film and edit the clips into one movie for each school, who will then share this video publicly for families to download for keepsake.

On Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31, cable channel WGRV Channel 18 will air the graduations.

Graduating South Green High School senior, Blake Morrow, said the plan fits his schedule.

Blake Morrow said, “It’s far enough out to where it’s not in the way of school, but it’s also close enough to where I’m not waiting three months out of the summer and then having to go.”

Morrow is leaving for Marine Corps Recruit Training at the end of May. He would have missed graduation if it were later pushed to later.

Morrow said, “I plan on leaving May 31st is the day I’ll leave Greeneville for West Virginia to go to MEPS, where I get my physical down and make sure all my paperwork is done.”

However, parents like Jennifer White believe the decision is too abrupt.

“Why can’t you sit on this until after May 29th, when we see what the governor says about opening things back up in the state of Tennessee, and then maybe venues can open and we can actually have a graduation for these children,” Jennifer White said. “Or even August, right before school starts, just like the city schools are doing.”

Pictured here, is Haley Gosnell, Jennifer White’s niece. She plans to attend Tusculum University.

The Greene County mother understands the idea of social distancing and suggests delaying graduation or having it on a football field.

“People have masks, you can wear your gloves, you can social distance, even if it’s on a footbal field. There’s a large football field here in Greeneville,” White told Pheben Kassahun. “It just doesn’t make sense to me that my children can go hang out at the mall, they can go hang out at the retail store, they work in the public. A majority of these seniors work – they have jobs. They can go into the public but they can’t have graduation.”

McLain informed Kassahun that this idea would not adhere with CDC guidelines since the county has more than 500 graduating seniors. In the past, he said graduations typically have roughly 2,000 attendants.

“When you put those individuals in reference to the CDC guidelines, and what is given to us by the department of education, it was going to be very tough for us to get all of those in their bleachers and be six feet apart,” McLain said. “The latest executive order by the Governor – Executive Order number 30 certainly states that social gatherings of ten or more remain prohibited.”

Pictured here, is Jason Dean, Jennifer White’s son. He plans to make a decision between University of Tennessee or East Tennessee State University.

White is hoping for another option because 17 of her family members plan to attend the graduation of her two kids.

“Invitations have been printed, supplies have been bought. People from different areas of Tennessee and other states have been invited. to come and watch both of my children graduate. Now, all of that is on hold because only ten people can come and watch the child graduate, so you have to pick and choose who goes and who stays,” she said. “I have to have it on two different days because my children work during the week. You have to ask off for an entire day for a 10-minute graduation,” White said.

The Class of 2020 seniors have had to skip out on various milestones and White just wishes the students’ last hurrah could be something that has not been affected by COVID-19.

“They’ve missed out on a lot of milestones, such as their senior trips, their proms and now graduation. Those are all important milestones for not only the students to experience but also the parents,” White added.

McLain understands he and the other Greene County School officials have had to make a tough decision and hopes everything would return to normal, soon.

“McLain explained to Kassahun, “These are tough times. Everybody wants normality. I do. Everybody wants things back to normal. My heart goes out to the seniors this year. In reference to spring sports, it’s been different, but we’re under a pandemic and it’s tough for everyone involved.”

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