On Monday, May 11, at the Franklin County Community School Corporation (FCCSC) Board of Trustees meeting, the highly anticipated question regarding what would be done in celebration of the Class of 2020’s graduation was answered.

The announcement – from FCCSC superintendent Dr. Debbie Howell - left some of the parents, students and community members divided.

Howell prefaced her announcement with, “This is a time where we have to think with our heads, not our hearts.”

Since the original graduation plan was announced at the meeting and feedback was heard, there have been a few adjustments. The current plan is to hold a single-family, in-person graduation ceremony on Sunday, June 7. Each graduate will have a scheduled time to walk across the stage on the Franklin County High School football field (Lew Wallace auditorium in the event of rain) to receive their diplomas from FCHS principal Keith Isaacs. Each grad is permitted to have up to six guests in attendance.

A professional photographer will be present to take photos of all graduates. In addition, a videographer will be filming and editing a compilation memento for each graduate, including them receiving diplomas, student speeches and the declaration of graduation. FCCSC also plans to livestream the ceremony for anyone who cannot be in attendance. Future plans are underway to invite 2020 graduates back to the 2020 Homecoming for special recognition.

A recent press release from the FCCSC states that more detailed information, procedures and an appointment time will be communicated to the graduates and their families from FCHS staff. It also says be aware that these plans are subject to change if conditions worsen.

One of the big questions being posed was why the decision was being made at this time. Some area schools have postponed their commencement dates until July to further assess the situation. When asked about the timing of decision, Howell said her team has been working with Franklin County’s COVID-19 Task Force and that the individuals on that team are much more versed in disease control and management than she or her team.

“There is a real chance that as things begin to ‘open up,’ the spread of COVID-19 is going to increase,” said Howell. “It is possible that things will close down again or restrictions will once again return. In reality, schools that are waiting until July may never get to have a graduation ceremony.”

Howell reiterated that July 4 is not a magic date and that COVID-19 will not be gone on July 4. The superintendent said discussions regarding graduation have been ongoing since the schools closed.

“As always, senior class officers have been included in many of these discussions and offered input,” said Howell. “We are dealing with a worldwide pandemic. In this instance, I think those trained and educated in the field of health and safety are the ones that should be sitting around the table, making recommendations to school officials.”

It didn’t take the community long to begin voicing their stance, some understanding, others upset.

By Thursday, May 14, a petition against the decision was started through the online platform change.org and is circulating on social media with the intent to collect 500 signatures to present to the school board and COVID-19 Task Force. According to change.org, the petition “Franklin County 2020 Graduation” was started by Jill Robinson, mom of 2020 grad Halle Robinson. The following plea is provided on the petition page and will be presented along with gathered signatures.

“A group of Franklin County seniors and parents are completely saddened by the decision to not have a traditional graduation,” the post began. “We feel the current plan in place for June 7 is more of a risk for spreading COVID-19. We are asking and pleading to please let our seniors have their day, just at a later date. In recent days we have learned of many schools around us that have moved back to honor their seniors! We will wear a mask, we will do anything, and we will limit the crowd that attends. Please reconsider, they deserve this and have worked so hard.”

Within six hours, the petition had 250 supporters and as of Friday evening, the goal of 500 supporters was reached and a new goal of 1,000 signatures was set. Many left comments explaining the reason behind their signature.

Heidi Faulkner, who is hoping for a more traditional graduation, expressed frustration with the FC decision, especially with neighboring schools offering a more traditional graduation later in the summer.

“We just want it pushed back,” Faulkner said. “I am happy for (other area schools with traditional graduation ceremonies). I am glad they made the right decision and waited.”

Oldenburg Academy has announced via a virtual “save the date” on its Facebook page, on-campus graduation will be held on Aug. 2, and a Senior Awards Dinner, July 31.

Rushville Consolidated High School also announced its graduation plans via Facebook. The commencement ceremony for the Lions will be Friday, July 10 at 9 p.m. (under the lights) at Hinshaw Field. In case of rain, it will be held Saturday, July 11 at 9 p.m. at the same location. They also plan to livestream the graduation.

The Connersville News-Examiner reported Connersville High School’s commencement exercises are being planned for Saturday, July 11 and WLWT reported the Lawrenceburg School Corporation will hold the graduation ceremony on July 8 at 8 p.m. on the football/soccer field.

However, East Central High School has come up with an “outside the box” idea to honor graduating seniors, according to an article published by Eaglecountryonline. The media outlet reported the following:

“Principal Tom Black says 300 plus vehicles could participate in the parade (May 30) that will travel through surrounding towns in the Sunman-Dearborn school district, ending in Bright.

Seniors and their family members will arrive at ECHS in one vehicle no earlier than 2:30 p.m. All participants must stay in their vehicles on school grounds, maintaining social distancing and respecting the safety of others.

The parade will depart at 3 p.m.and will be led by the Dearborn County Sheriff’s Department.
Participants are encouraged to safely and appropriately decorate their vehicles.

Aside from the parade, East Central High School will celebrate the Class of 2020 with a virtual commencement ceremony on June 7 at 2 p.m. The graduation ceremony will be streamed live on www.eaglecountryonline.com.”

Howell offered insight for the decision and why FC would look different than other nearby schools.

“What is happening in our world, our country, and our community is devastating,” said Howell. “People are dying alone. People have lost their businesses. People have lost their jobs. Our future is uncertain. The school corporation realizes that our seniors have lost their prom, their spring sports, and their last quarter of high school. We empathize with their disappointment that graduation won't be exactly like it has always been. We hope that the graduation ceremony that has been planned will offer closure to our students and a time for them to celebrate this accomplishment with their family.”

The senior mom, Robinson has not given up on the idea of a traditional graduation, though, and hopes to be heard by decision-makers.

“I’m standing up for the seniors that didn’t get their voices heard,” Robinson began in a response via Facebook Messenger. “I’m standing up for the parents that didn’t have a say for their Seniors. I’m standing up for the parents that only have one child, and this will be the only time they will ever get this experience. I am standing up for my 2020 senior and her peers who have worked so hard and deserve a graduation. I am standing up for the fact that this was supposed to be one of the very best memories they were ever to have.”

Those reasons are why Robinson will be participating in a rally scheduled for Friday, May 22, with other parents and students that want to make their voices heard. However, Robinson wanted to make it clear that on their quest to be heard, they will be as safe and respectful as possible.

“I work in healthcare, so I do understand how serious this virus is and taking precautions is. We are all wearing masks at our rally and will be standing six feet apart. We really want to show we will do anything to get them to reconsider, even wearing masks at graduation.”

The current plan is for the rally to take place along Main Street in Brookville. Students participating are planning on wearing their graduation gowns. All participants are asked to wear a mask and stay six feet apart. The rally will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This is a developing story. More information will be provided as it becomes available.