Chattanooga area high schools plan for in-person graduations

Anika Chaturvedi, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·3 min read

Apr. 21—In-person high school graduations will resume at Chattanooga area schools this spring after numerous cancellations last year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy held a much different graduation ceremony than usual last year, one taking place at Chattanooga State Community College instead of at the academy.

"We had a small class so we literally set the stage just in the parking lot there. They were nice enough to give us the area," said academy CEO Elaine Swafford."We had the girls' chairs set out and spaced in front of their cars, so we had a place for each girl's car, and the girl [would] get out of the car and she had a place and we just ran a regular ceremony except out of doors and distanced."

This year, the school is returning to the gymnasium with limited guests. The graduating class consists of 37 students who will graduate on Friday, May 14. There will be limited tickets per student, and masks and social distancing will be in place, Swafford said.

In Bradley County, Walker Valley High School's graduation is May 13, and Bradley County High School's ceremony is May 15. Masks are not required but are encouraged, said district spokesperson Brittany Cannon. The graduations will be held outside in the football stadiums.

There will not be a capacity limit, and families are asked to sit together, spaced three feet from other families, Cannon said in a statement.

McCallie School's graduation will take place Sunday, May 16, after prom on Friday and baccalaureate on Saturday. The school postponed graduation last year until July and will maintain social distancing and mask requirements from the previous year, but will not have a strict limit on guests.

"This is so important for a lot of family members such as grandparents and things like that, and we don't want to get into a situation where we have to restrict the numbers, but what we're finding [is] that most of the families themselves are volunteering to have limited numbers attend, so we find that the football stadium and the field, we will have enough space that we can distance everybody out without having to be so stringent upon limitation of numbers per student," said McCallie spokesperson Bill Steverson.

Graduations for Hamilton County Schools will take place May 17-22, with most ceremonies held outdoors.

"Nearly all of these events will take place outside at stadiums, have limited attendance, be socially distanced and feature a livestream. The two indoor graduations will follow the same protocol," said school system spokesperson Cody Patterson in an email. "We are still finalizing details around mask wearing for these events and will provide final details as graduation gets closer."

Baylor School will hold graduation the morning of Saturday, May 29, at the school's football stadium, with six guests maximum per student. Seating will be arranged for social distancing, and the school is asking everyone to wear masks, said Baylor spokesperson Barbara Kennedy.

"The whole year, it's just everything has been looked at from the safety standpoint, with COVID and doing the best thing for the community, and then trying to do the best thing for the students, and they've missed out on a lot [so] we're trying to give them some of the normal experiences that we can," Kennedy said.

Last year's graduation was postponed until July and optional since many students went home for the summer, and COVID-19 precautions from last year's ceremony will carry over into this year, she said.

"We had it for anybody who could make it, and we did it outdoors, and everybody was socially distanced and wearing a mask, and it was about 150 degrees. It was so hot, it was awful," Kennedy said. "But we did have a graduation, and then this year we decided, because we did it before and it worked really well, we thought, 'Well, let's, let's just play it safe and have it outdoors again.'"

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.