RITES OF PASSAGE

Area schools still hope to hold prom, graduation

Districts examine summer options

April 22, 2020 Cranberry Local News


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Graduating seniors mug for the camera on their way to the 109th commencement ceremony at Mars Area High School in 2018. This year's graduation ceremony, scheduled for June 12, has been postponed. District officials are looking at ways to hold prom and graduation in a school year disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

For 13 years, Kendall Grossman dreamed of the day when she could put on her cap and gown, walk to a stage and accept her high school diploma.

She longed to move her tassel from right to left and then throw her cap skyward.

She also pined for the chance to go to prom again — one last time.

Kendall considers those things necessary rites of passage.

To the Moniteau High School senior, a final school year without a prom or a graduation would be both hollow and gut-wrenching.

“We won't have closure,” Kendall said. “I think as a senior, (prom and graduation) are kind of a farewell.

“I don't think we really appreciated those things until we were worried about not having them, especially graduation,” she added.

Kendall and other seniors may not miss out on those monumental events — put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic — after all.

In recent days, school districts all over Butler County have been devising plans to save those cornerstones of high school life.

Including Moniteau.

“We're going to do whatever we can do to have prom and have a graduation,” said Moniteau principal Lance Fox.

That includes some outside-the-box proposals, such as a drive-in graduation.

Logistics for something like that, however, will be difficult to work out, but it was discussed at the Moniteau School Board meeting last week.

“We're going to do something,” Fox said.

The Moniteau board ultimately decided at its meeting to survey the student body about what their vision was for their prom and commencement.

The board also encouraged community members to come forward with ideas.

“If you have an idea or something you think would work, please email our superintendent,” said board President Michael Panza.

The Seneca Valley, Karns City, Slippery Rock and Mars school districts also are making plans to hold a prom and/or commencement whenever social distancing requirements are lifted.

“We are definitely looking to hold these events whenever possible,” said Mars Area High School Superintendent Wesley Shipley. “We want the students to experience the best of high school. We are looking at all possibilities right now.”

Planets plans

Last week, Mars Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth McMahon said a couple “rites of passage” events are being rescheduled.

“This is a hot topic and on many people's list of concerns,” McMahon said.

McMahon said she's collaborated with district officials and neighboring districts to figure out how to proceed with events like prom and graduation.

On April 14 the district announced the dates for prom and graduation, scheduled for May 8 and June 12 respectively, are postponed.

“We are not using the word canceled,” McMahon said. “We're saying ... postponed.”

Kindergarten registration has also changed. Registration packets and student lottery tickets will be accepted by mail or at district drop-off locations.

“Look for future details,” McMahon said. “Coming as soon as we solidify things.”

McMahon added third-quarter grades will be posted April 20. The district is still grading students at this time.

Work in progress

At Moniteau, Kendall is pleased the administration is trying everything in its power to give students these two important events.

“I think it's nice they're doing that,” she said. “I know for all of my classmates — we're a tight-knit group — we didn't even know it was going to be our last day of school (March 13) and we didn't have a chance to say goodbye. It felt like the rug was pulled out from under us.”

Other districts' plans

Butler Area School District also plans on holding a prom and graduation, even if they are postponed deep into the summer months.

The problem school districts are facing is how to plan when there is no clear timetable for when social distancing guidelines will be lifted.

School is already canceled for the academic year, making scheduling prom and commencement even trickier.

“Obviously, we don't know when anything is going to get back to normal,” said Butler Superintendent Brian White. “Even if we have to have it in July, we will have it.”

Butler Principal John Wyllie sent out an email to students April 2 to allay concerns over the loss of prom and graduation.

“Perhaps the two most recognizable events, Prom and Commencement, have gotten particular attention,” the email read. “As a District, our goal is to provide those two events in some manner. If that means a July Prom because that's when the restrictions on large groups is lifted, so be it. We will figure it out.”

The email also promised to “(provide) our seniors a celebration of their accomplishments in some way.”

Some members of the Moniteau School Board, however, wondered if holding these events in the summer months was legal.

Board member Linda Dillaman said she wasn't sure if they could be considered school functions if the students were deemed adults.

But Moniteau solicitor Andrea Parenti said, “it's not traditional, but yes, I think it would still be a school function.”

Slippery Rock Principal Cory Hake also sent out an email recently detailing the district's intent to hold prom June 13.

There was no word in the email about a commencement ceremony, however.

Slippery Rock senior class President Nate Gill said he appreciated the effort, but worried about potential conflicts in the summer months.

“It's all right, but it's getting into graduation party season, and I already know of three people that are supposed to have grad parties (June 13),” Gill said. “It will be fun to see everyone again, though, and have a good night.”

As of April 13, students in other Butler County districts, such as Knoch and Freeport, have said they have yet to receive notification about whether prom or graduation will be held.

The Freeport athletics Twitter account did tweet out a message last week polling its student followers on their thoughts about a June or July prom.

Freeport senior Sidney Shemanski hopes to get a chance to wear her $500 prom dress and walk to receiver her diploma at some point this year.

“These are the things we are going to remember for the rest of our lives,” Sidney said. “(Potentially missing) out on the prom, on graduation, on everything that makes a senior year a senior year (is) really depressing sometimes.”

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