With Gov. Brian Kemp ordering public schools to remain closed through the end of the school year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, local districts are unsure what graduation ceremonies will look like, or if they will even happen. And some districts do not know how summer school will be conducted.

Atlanta Public Schools’ last school day is May 26; the DeKalb County School District’s last school day is May 21; and the Fulton County School System’s last school day is May 22. Graduation ceremonies are currently scheduled for the end of May.

Atlanta Public Schools

“I can honestly say we haven’t figured out graduation,” APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said in an April 2 virtual media roundtable. “Ideally, we would want to be on the same days using the same schedules, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible.”

Carstarphen said she is taking ideas for alternatives on how to handle graduation ceremonies and encouraged students and parents to reach out to her.

“I’m not committed to a virtual ceremony yet at all,” Carstarphen said. “I still would love to see us figure out something super-clever and brilliant that would feel special and exciting and honor our seniors.”

Carstarphen said the district is still trying to figure out how summer school will work.

“We’re exploring all of our options and I have raised the question,” Carstarphen said. “We are rethinking summer school and summertime.”

DeKalb County School District

DeKalb Schools said in an email that the district is reviewing waivers approved by the Georgia Department of Education to ensure high school students meet graduation requirements and seniors graduate.

DeKalb Schools said more information will be forthcoming about the action plans for summer school.

Fulton County Schools

“Graduation is not canceled,” Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney said in an April 2 virtual Board of Education meeting. “We’re going to find a way to honor the good work [the seniors] have done.”

Looney said that graduation ceremony details will be determined by individual high schools and that renting facilities outside of the school district will not be allowed for the remainder of the school year.

“Due to the level of risk and uncertainty at this point, I have asked principals to begin consulting with members of the Class of 2020 regarding alternate plans for this year’s graduation ceremonies,” Looney said in a letter to students. “More specifically, I have asked principals to begin making plans for a modified ceremony to be held at your high school.”

Looney said the ceremonies could include a blend of virtual and in-person participation while adhering to social distancing requirements, or the events could be more of a virtual, non-traditional ceremony. 

Looney called on seniors to reach out to their high schools and express their ideas for ceremony options. He also announced the last school day for seniors will be May 1.

“I ask you to reach out to your friends, classmates and school leaders to develop inventive approaches to graduation that will both pay tribute to you and prioritize everyone’s safety,” Looney said in the letter.

Looney said the grades that students had on March 12 will remain standing through the end of the year, but only if they stay attentive in virtual learning. If a student resolves an “I,” or incomplete, they will be able to attend summer school virtually in June. Dates will be shared within the next few days, Looney said.

The district also plans to have a second summer school session later in the summer that would be a mix of in-person class and virtual, but that is all contingent upon the virus, Looney said.

Before the meeting in which Looney announced graduation plans, Elizabeth Hodges, the communications director at Riverwood International Charter School in Sandy Springs, said the school does not yet have any concrete plans for graduation because it must follow the guidelines of the district. Hodges did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the board meeting.

Hodges said the summer school plans have not been solidified because Riverwood is focused on the current school year. 

“We do not know what our plans are for summer school at this time,” Hodges said in an email. “The school is, understandably, focused on finishing the remainder of this school year first and foremost.”

Hannah Greco

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.