MELISSA - Melissa ISD officials announced May 8 that new Texas Education Agency guidelines, along with Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-21, will allow the district to host a modified in-person graduation ceremony.


The event is scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. June 5 at Cardinal Stadium.


A photographer will be on site to take pictures of students as they receive their diplomas.


"We continued to have hope that we would be able to conduct a face-to-face graduation ceremony for our senior class of 2020 and their families," Melissa High School Principal Kenneth Wooten said.


"We are grateful to our local and state officials for offering guidelines that prioritize the safety of our community and allow us to celebrate with our seniors in person."


In accordance with the latest state guidelines, graduates will only be allowed to bring four family members to the ceremony.


Parents or guardians of students planning to attend are asked to RSVP on the district website by May 15.


All families attending will be required to stay six feet away from others. Though it is not required, district officials encourage all attendees to wear face coverings over their noses and mouths.


Attendees will also be required to complete a COVID-19 screening questionnaire before the event. Anyone showing symptoms of coronavirus will not be allowed to participate.


Social interaction and congregating will not be permitted at the stadium before, during or after graduation.


The ceremony will also be livestreamed and recorded for families unable to attend and for those who want to watch it again.


"We are just thrilled to death for our seniors and their families," Superintendent Keith Murphy said.


According to Murphy, the biggest challenge the district faced was making sure it was following the guidelines put forth by not only the governor, but also Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.


Murphy and other superintendents have calls with Morath three times per week. Over the course of the past week, restrictions were eased twice, paving the way for the new graduation plan.


Since an early June graduation is now possible, previous plans for a separate May 22 virtual tassel turn and cap throw, as well as a May 30 virtual graduation, have been scrapped.


District officials also officially canceled prom since they were unable to find a way to hold it while also adhering to social-distancing and group-gathering guidelines. Students who purchased tickets can go to the district’s website for instructions on how to get a refund.


"Whenever there’s change, no matter how noble we try to make it, there are always a few challenges, but we’re pleased with where we are," Murphy said.


Meanwhile, Anna ISD has decided to proceed with a drive-in graduation ceremony in the high school parking lot at 7 p.m. May 22.


Each senior will be allowed one vehicle no larger than an SUV. It may hold as many people as is legally allowed.


Graduating students will be given a name card during cap and gown pick up on May 18. This will serve as their gradation admission ticket. When arriving at the event, staff will direct vehicles where to park.


As commencement proceeds six vehicles at a time will be directed to temporarily park in "Graduation Lane." The seniors in these cars will exit their vehicles and walk to six designated spots just east of the stage. Cars belonging to the first three seniors will pull to the front of the stage for an up-close view of their student receiving their diploma. As a precaution, staff onstage will wear masks and gloves and not shake hands with students. The entire event will be broadcast on YouTube.


District officials said that they considered in-person, vehicle and virtual graduation options. They ultimately decided to combine these options in an effort to maintain as may traditions as possible while also ensuring the safety of the community.


They also note that the drive-in setup will allow families to be closer to students when they receive their diploma than they would be at a traditional ceremony.


"We believe this provides the safest option for the most number of students to participate," the district explained in a statement.