Arkansas schools plan for 2021 graduation with COVID guidelines in mind

Though it may seem early to think about, the class of 2021 already has its eyes set on graduation.

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — With only months until the class of 2021 graduates, schools are making sure their plans measure up to the COVID guidelines.

Bauxite schools already have their date set for May 21.

Last year, the school had to shift the 2020 graduation to the summer when the restrictions first began, but they were still able to hold the ceremony on the football field with families in attendance.

“We got all of our students graduated and they were very grateful. Parents were very grateful they got to attend an in-person graduation,” said Leann Pinkerton, Bauxite Schools Director of Academics.

Now, their graduation plan is mostly complete with last year’s ceremony in mind. Schools will once again have to get their graduation plans approved by the Arkansas Department of Health.

“Each graduate will have a certain number of tickets available. Every other row in the seating is going to be marked off. Everyone is going to have to wear a mask,” said Pinkerton.

But some schools are already looking at alternative options after one of the most popular event venues in central Arkansas is not available.

Simmons Bank Arena will not be hosting graduations this spring.

“The thinking is maybe by the summer, social distancing will be relaxed. That’s going to be the key to us reopening, is social distancing is relaxed,” said Michael Marion, the Simmons Bank Arena general manager.

Marion says it would not be possible to spread out so many people and stay within the guidelines.

“We could have as many as 800 graduates on the floor, but if we have to social distance them that’s only 300. Again, with social distancing, we can only let 2,200 people in the building, so it’s really not practical,” said Marion.

Simmons Bank Arena is considering allowing schools to hold graduations there in the summer as long as cases are down and social distancing guidelines allow for it.