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NORTH LITTLE ROCK — The planned in-person high school graduation ceremony for North Little Rock students was canceled Tuesday afternoon because of a rise in covid-19 numbers, school district officials said.

The school’s graduation committee met Tuesday to discuss the planned July 25 graduation ceremony at Barton Coliseum. In a unanimous decision, the committee opted to cancel the in-person ceremony, according to a news release from school spokesperson Dustin Barnes.

The decision was made in part because the number of students in the senior class and the potential number of guests would violate the guidelines mandated by the Arkansas Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in regard to hosting large gatherings.

“We did not feel it was responsible to host graduation and risk the possibility of endangering our seniors, their families, our staff, and the community at large,” Barnes said in the release. “In addition to canceling graduation, we have also decided to call off Senior Activities as well. We know that this announcement will not be met with applause. Some will vigorously disagree. However, we hope that you understand our position.”

Barnes said the School District was hoping by July there might be a window where the numbers were low enough to make graduation possible, but the rise in the number of cases across the state gave officials pause.

“We have 550 graduates,” he said. “Add that along with guests, teachers and staff, and we decided Barton Coliseum didn’t have the capacity to handle that many people safely. We had hope the numbers would have been more manageable.”

Barnes said the district held an online graduation that was aired May 31 on television.

Cancellation of the in-person graduation is the most recent school district decision made in a growing number related to the covid-19 pandemic.

The district’s Reopening School Task Force held its first meeting in June, and school staff, administrators and parents discussed various topics that included creation of an online academy option.

Interim Superintendent Keith McGee said a survey gauging interest in an online classroom option for next semester received enough support to require some foundation building for the concept.

McGee also mentioned reaching out to churches, the local library and other facilities around the city to create areas where online students can safely gather to use their wifi while teachers are on hand to provide academic assistance.

Another option discussed was establishing an alternate days schedule, also known as the A/B option, where students would report to class twice a week instead of the standard five-day school week. The other three days students would complete assignments virtually from home while the school was cleaned.

The A/B option was not included in a news release last week that listed potential options for reopening the school. A virtual option or a traditional setting with social distancing were the only options mentioned in the release.

“This does not mean that the A/B option has gone away totally,” the release stated. “We just have to make sure that all of our options meet the requirements allowed by the Arkansas Department of Education, Arkansas Department of Health and the CDC.”

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