In a dramatic departure from what was announced earlier this month, Whittier Regional High School is now planning an optional in-person, socially-distanced graduation later this month to celebrate the Class of 2020, school officials said.
The school initially planned to hold a virtual graduation during the coronavirus pandemic, to follow that with an in-person event next spring.
The new plan is to invite graduating seniors to drive to the Whittier football field with their diplomas, cross the stage when their name is read, and have their photo taken with their parents.
Seniors will do so in alphabetical order, in three groups spread over May 27, 28 and 29, from 5 to 7 p.m. each day, to ensure social distancing is maintained and also to allow each student the time needed to drive to the field and have their photo taken.
School officials said students will be strictly limited to two guests, all participants will wear masks, and school security and staff will line up each car and direct students and their guests when to drive to the field and where to park. No one, including guests, will be permitted in the stands of the field, officials said.
Whittier Superintendent Maureen Lynch said the school has closely adhered to guidance from state and federal officials during the COVID-19 pandemic, and initially planned to release a graduation video on May 28 recognizing graduating student to promote social distancing.
The school developed a plan to safely hold an optional, in-person event, however, after consulting with Haverhill’s Department of Public Health, the Whittier School Committee, administration and senior class advisors, Lynch said. The school also considered feedback from parents, guardians and students, she said.
"Graduating from high school is a huge accomplishment, and it is a once-in-a-lifetime moment that our seniors deserve to have," Lynch said. "This pandemic has posed so many challenges and significantly changed day-to-day life, but after receiving feedback from students and their families we worked hard to find a solution that would allow them the option to participate in a graduation ceremony.
"We're thrilled that we will have this opportunity to recognize and celebrate the Class of 2020 this May," she said.
More information about the event will be provided to students and their families as it becomes available.