Mass. high school finds loophole to hold in-person graduation amid coronavirus pandemic

READING, MASS. (WHDH) - A Massachusetts high school found a way to turn its graduation ceremony into a religious service, which allowed hundreds of people to gather on Friday morning to honor the Class of 2020 with an in-person celebration.

At a time when schools across the United States are having to find new ways to graduate their seniors due to COVID-19 concerns, Austin Preparatory School in Reading made it look normal with students in caps and gowns, and family, faculty, and staff in attendance outside on the football field.

“What students and parents wanted more than anything else was just an opportunity to come together one last time,” Austin Prep headmaster Dr. James Hickey told 7NEWS.

All 154 seniors at the private Catholic school walked the graduation stage and received a diploma from Hickey. Each student was allowed to sit at the ceremony with two guests from their household.

So, how was Austin Prep able to pull it off, when most schools have been resorting to virtual graduations? They simultaneously held an official worship service on the field, which is now allowed under Gov. Charlie Baker’s four-phase reopening pan.

“When the governor relaxed the restrictions on religious services, we used that opportunity to celebrate our graduating class in a way that is aligned with what is most important to us,” Hickey said. “Faith comes first here, so what we are celebrating today is certainly the Class of 2020, but it’s done in the form of a Roman Catholic liturgy.”

Hickey added that the town of Reading also approved of the ceremony, which was attended by about 475 people.

“I went to them and said, ‘Here is what we’re thinking, is this something that is doable, possible?'” Hickey explained. “They said, ‘Yes. Submit a plan, and please proceed.’ We submitted a plan that went to the Department of Health and the Office of Emergency Management and the town signed off on it.”

Everyone’s safety was taken into consideration, masks were mandatory, everything was wiped down, social distancing was required, and chairs were set up on individual pieces of plywood, according to Hickey.

“Frankly, I don’t think they could have done it any more cleaner or nicer or precaution safety-wise,” said Michael Joyce, the parent of a graduating senior.

Hickey also noted that the field has a capacity of several thousand people.

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