Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Saturday that traditional high school graduation ceremonies will not be allowed prior to July 1. Arkansas Department of Education officials also are reviewing options in the event it is not safe to fully open schools in the fall.
The governor and Education Secretary Johnny Key said during Saturday’s COVID-19 press conference they know the delay is disappointing to many, but is necessary for public safety.
"I’m very sympathetic because I have a granddaughter who is a senior in high school this year. But it’s really a risk whenever you bring thousands of parents and students together in one assembly to have a celebration, and that’s exactly the kind of gathering that could lead to a spread of COVID-19," Hutchinson said.
Key said he would "encourage" school districts to wait until after July 1, but the department is open to alternative graduation plans. He said the department will contact superintendents this upcoming week to let them know how to submit proposals.
"There are a number of techniques that schools have already started exploring to see how they could make this happen as a celebration for their seniors, at the same time, taking into consideration and following our social distancing protocols, the restrictions of congregant gatherings of 10 or more people," Key said.
He also said the department will continue to monitor data and work the Arkansas Department of Health to consider any modifications to the July 1 order. He also said social distancing guidelines and other directives issued by the governor will prevent private schools from having a traditional graduation.
Education officials and educators also are preparing options in the event COVID-19 spread remains a public health crisis when schools should open in the fall.
"We have teams of teachers we brought together, and principals and superintendents, that are planning out different scenarios and possibilities. It is something that we are looking at and hopefully we’ll be presenting the governor with options coming up in the next couple of weeks," Key said.
Gov. Hutchinson said the "first option" is to have schools open as normal, but it’s important to have other options in place.
Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 2,830, as of Saturday afternoon, up from 2,741 on Friday. Of the 89 new cases between Friday and Saturday, 47 were inmates in the Cummins state prison.
Of the total of cases, 1,813 are active, with the remainder accounting for deaths and recoveries. The number of deaths rose from 46 to 49. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 104 on Saturday, unchanged from Friday. Of the COVID-19 patients, 22 were on ventilators, down from 25 on Friday.
As of Saturday at 1 p.m., there were 924,376 U.S. cases and 52,782 deaths. Globally, there were 2,865,938 cases and 200,698 deaths.