West York school board makes graduation decision

West York Area High School Graduation Ceremony at the school in West Manchester Township, Friday, June 7, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The West York Area school board has decided to have an online graduation for seniors on their original scheduled graduation date of June 5.

The board, in a virtual meeting Wednesday evening, voted 8-1 to approve the graduation plans.

Board Treasurer George Margetas voted against the proposal in favor of waiting a little bit longer to see if the governor would relax restrictions in York County, which he expects might happen as early as next week.

"We’re acting as though things are going to stay the way they are right this minute," he said. "I feel like we’re rushing."

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The plan would involve filming students walking across the high school auditorium stage in 10-minute slots, incorporating speeches and student recognitions and allowing parents to present a diploma cover for a photograph.

Seniors would also make their mark on the school by signing a rock on their way out.

A video of the ceremony would be released at 7 p.m. for students and their families to watch live together at their own watch parties, and each student would receive a free copy of the video on a flash drive.

High school Principal Carrie Jones said a graduation committee — which included input from seniors — explored several options, including a drive-in ceremony, but the pre-recorded virtual airing was one officials felt most confident they could execute.

"There are so many barriers to those options that we would need to overcome," Jones said, noting that one possible option was the York Fairgrounds, which is currently still a COVID-19 testing site.

Even if the state was to remove the majority of restrictions, there's no guarantee that would include large social gatherings, board President Suzanne Smith said.

And the governor has said even if the state reopens, it could easily close again, added board member Courtney Dennis.

"We have no idea what one week, two weeks, three weeks is going to give us," said Superintendent Todd Davies prior to the vote Wednesday, noting that if the district doesn't act now, seniors could lose out on the virtual option if other plans fall through.

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District solicitor Jeffrey Litts said a number of his clients were considering the same options, and from a legal perspective, there's too much planning involved to wait.

It sometimes takes weeks to edit the videos, he said, and if the production company is not locked in, that company might not be available on the fly.

The cost of hiring York City-based Bold Creative Media will cost $6,700 — stretching beyond the normal $4,000 budget for graduation, but board members agreed the costs were worth it to do something special for seniors.

In lieu of the in-person option, Jones said, the district is  planning a homecoming reunion in the fall for seniors, based on feedback from this year's class.

It would include a graduation cap toss before the homecoming game, a last walk through the building and an opportunity for the senior class to gather and watch their recorded video together.

West York Area High School Graduation Ceremony at the school in West Manchester Township, Friday, June 7, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"They really wanted to be able to create an experience where most of the senior class could attend," Jones said, noting that a summer ceremony could disrupt students moving away, taking jobs or leaving for the military.

The board also approved the contract with the video production company Wednesday night, along with several other changes in light of the pandemic.

Those changes included moving the last school day for students from June 5 to May 29 to allow teachers an extra week to plan for the next school year.

"There’s going to be a gap," especially with younger students, in terms of learning, Davies said, and teachers will need to address that, while also not knowing exactly what education will look like in the fall.

The board also amended board policy to allow an ad hoc committee to meet weekly to discuss ongoing updates and vote, if necessary.

Members approved replacing some outdated Chromebooks as well.