(Note: due to the fluid nature of this situation, it is possible that the guidelines set by the TEA may alter or change the way RFHS’ graduation is held. Guidelines may become more lenient from now until the day of graduation. However, they may also become more restrictive. The ACISD and RFHS will continue to provide updates on graduation as the day nears.)
The Rockport-Fulton High School (RFHS) class of 2020 will get to experience a traditional graduation ceremony despite them missing the last two and a half months of school because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following guidelines outlined by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), RFHS Principal Rhonda Mieth and Aransas County Independent School District Superintendent (ACISD) Joseph Patek created a plan that involved two scenarios in which to hold graduation.
On Thursday, April 30, Mieth made an announcement on the Rockport-Fulton High School Facebook page regarding graduation and revealed two plans.
Plan A was to host a traditional graduation ceremony with social distancing restrictions outlined by the TEA.
Plan B was to host a beach parade ceremony that involved a graduate in a vehicle with their family in a parade that traveled through downtown and into the beach, where the ceremony would be held.
After briefly explaining both plans, Mieth asked the senior class to consult with their families and vote on which ceremony they’d like to partake in. The vote was conducted online and students had from Thursday, April 30 until Sunday, May 3 to vote.
For more transparency, two members on the ACISD School Board requested a special meeting to inform the public on details about the RFHS graduation and planned a meeting for Tuesday, May 5.
During that meeting, Mieth revealed publicly that seniors voted 81-53 in favor of a traditional graduation ceremony, versus a beach parade ceremony.
Since then, RFHS has provided more information about the ceremony and the guidelines that have to be followed in agreement with the TEA and Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
The ceremony will be held at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 21 at Pirate Stadium. Gates will open at 7 p.m.
An inclement weather date has been set for 8 p.m. Friday, May 22 with no back-up.
The RFHS graduation ceremony will be live-streamed.
Because Aransas County has a small number of COVID-19 cases, the county has been granted a waiver from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The waiver allows RFHS to hold this type of ceremony. Based upon guidance RFHS has received from the TEA Commissioner and local authorities, this plan meets the social distancing guidelines. The ACISD is requesting that all guests whom are able to attend the ceremony adhere to the set guidelines.
The ceremony will be traditional but will lack some traditional components; for example, there will be no live music, limitations will be set for the number of guests in the stadium and on the stage, and graduates will not be able to congregate to toss their caps, among others.
Graduates will only be allowed three guests at the graduation ceremony, and each group must enter the stadium at the same time so the party can be seated together. Incomplete parties will be asked to step aside until all members arrive.
Graduates, already in their cap and gowns, will move to the check-in table where they will receive their National Honor Society stoles, cords and/or medals. From then each graduate will move to their designated seat on the football field. Their seat will be clearly marked with their name. Students are to remain at their seats while waiting for the ceremony to begin. Students are not required to wear masks, but may if they wish. RFHS will supply non-medical grade masks to graduates.
If graduates are not comfortable participating in the ceremony due to health concerns, they are being asked to contact Mieth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ACISD will have at least 30 event personnel working and law enforcement officers on location to oversee operations. All event workers will wear a safety vest and facemask or covering. Supervisors will wear red vests and workers/ushers will wear yellow vests.
There will be three entrances; The visitor/student parking lot, the West entrance behind the concession stand, and the North entrance behind the home side bleachers. Social distancing will take place at all three entrances. Clearly identifiable standing locations at the various stadium entries will be established that are spaced six feet apart.
ACISD nurses will provide a required health screening to everyone in line before they are allowed entry to the stadium. The questions will center around: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, feeling feverish, and/or known close contact with a person with a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19.
People who exhibit any of these symptoms will not be allowed to enter the stadium. Once the screening has taken place, guests will be asked to sanitize their hands at a hand-sanitizing station before entry.
The entry will be staggered in order to maintain social distancing between the groups. Each group will be seated in an area that is socially-distanced of at least six feet on all sides from other groups. The available seats will be designated with an R-F Pirate sticker. Guests will not be allowed to sit in seats without the designated sticker.
The flow process
Once the graduate arrives with their entire party of no more than three guests, entry will be permitted on a staggered entry process. The gate worker will direct the guests to a stadium usher who will direct them to the next available seating location.
Guests will not be able to choose their own seats. Ushers will be located at the top of the bleachers, as well as at the bottom, throughout the entire ceremony. Graduates will proceed to the check-in station.
During the ceremony
All guests are to remain in their seats while practicing social distancing between the groups. If guests need to leave their seats for any reason, social distancing must be maintained. Guests will need to find an usher who can direct them accordingly.
The restrooms will be available behind the concession stand on both the visitor and the home sides. A restroom facility attendant will be available to ensure that only one guest at a time is in the facility.
End of ceremony
Once the recessional starts, graduates will be escorted out of the stadium and directed to their vehicles. Students and guests will not be allowed to congregate on the ACISD premises. All guests will need to remain seated until graduates have left the stadium. At that time, stadium ushers will conduct a staggered release of the guests that will take place from the bottom of the bleachers up to the top. This will be in accordance with social distancing. Guests are to leave the stadium and go directly to their vehicles.