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FORT SMITH -- After multiple delays, the Fort Smith School District has settled on a time to hold graduation ceremonies for its high school students, as well as a plan to carry them out.

The Fort Smith School Board unanimously approved one of the six graduation options for the district's Northside and Southside high schools that were presented during a meeting on Thursday.

There will be graduation ceremonies for Northside and Southside high schools that will take place at the stadiums of each school. The Northside ceremony will start at 8 a.m. July 16; the one at Southside will begin at 8 a.m. July 17.

If it is raining at 8 a.m. on either day, the ceremonies will be postponed until 8 p.m. the same day, although the location will remain the same. Should it be raining at 8 p.m., the ceremonies will be held at the Fort Smith Convention Center.

Although no faculty members will attend the ceremonies, graduates will be allowed to bring two guests each. The seating of guests will be assigned by lottery. The plan states, in keeping with state guidelines, that seating will be arranged to allow for 6 feet of distance between household groups in attendance.

Similarly, graduates will be seated on the fields in chairs 6 feet apart and more than 12 feet from the audience. Face coverings will be required except for children under the age of 10.

However, in the event that inclement weather necessitates moving the ceremonies to the city's convention center, there will not be space available for guests. In any case, a livestream will be available for guests to watch the ceremonies.

The coronavirus -- and efforts to contain the spread of it -- has caused graduation ceremonies across the state to either be canceled or postponed.

The district had announced last Monday that it would once again postpone this year's graduation ceremonies in light of coronavirus restrictions and other issues. The ceremony for Northside was meant to take place July 6, and Southside's would have been held July 7.

Fort Smith School District Superintendent Doug Brubaker said state authorities announced on April 25 that "traditional high school graduation would not be available until July 1." Plans for graduation ceremonies scheduled to take place after that date would have to be submitted to both the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Health for approval.

Since then, Brubaker said, high school principals and staff members in the school district have surveyed students, measured bleachers, calculated seating capacities of venues in the face of state-required social distancing restrictions, gathered stakeholder input and created several options for graduation ceremonies that appeared to meet state requirements.

Ginni McDonald, the school district's director of secondary education, provided the board with an overview of the options available. Brubaker said the options were approved by the Elementary and Secondary Education Division and the Health Department.


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