Waynesboro High School graduation plan focused on including more family and peers
By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
WAYNESBORO — The Waynesboro School Board received an update on the 2021-2022 budget, as well as an overview of possible plans for Waynesboro High School’s graduation this year, at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday night.
Gov. Ralph Northam signed and approved Virginia’s budget.
“So, it is now officially law, and it is approved. That is a bit of a formality,” said Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell.
With the state’s budget approved, Waynesboro Schools will now wait for Waynesboro City to approve its budget.
Cassell said that he presented the school system’s proposed budget for 2021-2022 to Waynesboro City Council on Monday night. The school system expects to receive $860,000 more than last year from the city in the next fiscal budget, which amounts to $1.3 million, according to Cassell, when the school system takes into consideration the funds held during the pandemic in 2020.
City council will hold a budget public hearing at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 26.
Cassell said that discussion on plans for end-of-year events, including the annual ceremony for retiring staff and teachers and the high school’s graduation ceremony, at Tuesday’s meeting has “been on the agenda for April for nearly a year.”
However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all events are cancelled except for the high school’s Class of 2021 graduation.
“There’s just no other way to do other events under the current guidelines or, we feel, for safety,” Cassell said.
Waynesboro High Principal Bryan Stamm said that graduation will be held on Saturday, May 15 in small groups in designated locations on the school’s first floor, including the Louis Spilman Auditorium, like last year, the gymnasium and hallways.
“Back in January and even into the fall, our ultimate goal and our plan was to have a traditional ceremony,” said Stamm. But the state’s current executive order because of the pandemic will prohibit a traditional ceremony.
Stamm said that in planning graduation this year, the school system has two goals in mind: families of graduates could bring as many family members as possible, and students would have an opportunity to graduate with the peers and friends of their choice.
“Our ultimate goal or decision was to host, as I said, smaller ceremonies of 10 students at a time,” Stamm said.
Each graduating student may bring up to 10 family members.
Despite the current executive order, Stamm said that some graduates and families continued to hope for a traditional ceremony.
“Really we’re not seeing that as feasible,” Stamm said.
Cassell said that an architect study on the football stadium revealed a capacity of 1,000, but, Stamm said that the stadium is not an option because ceremonies could not be held within one day, and staff would be excluded from the celebration. Also, graduates would be limited to only four family members each.
“And that’s something that we’ve heard over and over again from families is that they want to bring more [family members],” Stamm said.
Cassell added that weather was a consideration in planning graduation. When a traditional ceremony is held in the stadium but rain comes, the ceremony is simply brought inside. The current executive order would prohibit bringing the ceremony inside as a backup plan.
“Part of a consideration of any outdoor ceremony is what do you do if the weather is not cooperating with you? And there’s just not a good solution to that,” Cassell said.
The Class of 2021’s graduation ceremony has been planned with family and classmates in mind.
“This has not been without a lot of thought and consideration,” Cassell said.
Criticism of last year’s indoor, individual ceremonies for each graduate, Cassell said, was about concern that graduates did not get to share the celebration with their friends. And graduates were limited to the number of family members, which excluded certain family members.
“So this solves that issue of being able to be up to 10 people,” Cassell said, and gave Stamm credit for the idea.
Cassell reminded audience members and the school board that members of the high school’s senior class have not been together in 14 months because of the pandemic.
“So, there’s just not that cohesiveness of a senior year that we all enjoyed, so there are smaller groups of friends who have played on a team together — or participated in band [or other extracurricular activity],” Cassell said.
He said that Waynesboro Schools staff “realize [the graduation plan] doesn’t please everyone.”
But, according to Stamm, this year’s plan has “been overwhelmingly in a positive favor.”
Cassell cautioned that a decision must be made soon.