The Portland school district plans to hold an in-person high school graduation ceremony in August if possible.

But like other school systems trying to figure out how to hold the milestone event, the district’s planning depends on whether the coronavirus outbreak has been sufficiently curtailed to allow large gatherings to take place.

“We’ve surveyed our high school seniors and they indicated overwhelmingly that they prefer in-person graduation to a virtual one,” Superintendent Xavier Botana wrote in a letter to the community Tuesday. “As such, we are scheduling high school graduation for the first week of August. That time frame, which of course is dependent on the lifting of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, creates the opportunity to gather and celebrate prior to most students leaving for college and careers in late August.”

South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin said the district is considering either a ceremony this summer or a virtual ceremony.

“We are surveying seniors and parents and working with class advisers. We aim to make it a wonderful celebration whenever and however we are able to proceed,” Kunin said in an interview Wednesday.

With school buildings closed for the rest of the school year – and spring sports, proms and clubs canceled as well – districts across Maine are trying to figure out how to handle graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020, a milestone that many students value highly.

Gatherings of more than 10 people are currently banned to combat the spread of the coronavirus, according to Gov. Janet  Mills’ executive order. While there might be some easing of physical distancing restrictions by mid-May or June, it’s unclear whether large gatherings like graduation ceremonies would be permitted.

Maine had 770 COVID-19 cases through Wednesday, with 24 deaths and 126 hospitalizations. Mills said this week that there’s no specific timetable for re-opening the state – it will depend on infection rates and the state’s ability to test and respond to cases. Mills extended an emergency powers order to May 15, and it is possible that even after some physical distancing restrictions are lifted, others may remain for an extended time.

The two most likely options for schools are to hold a virtual graduation ceremony or to push off the ceremony until later this summer in hopes that such gatherings will be allowed by then.

John Suttie, superintendent of Old Orchard Beach schools, said the district is looking at a July or August graduation date, but possibly with only graduates and faculty present. The graduation would be live-streamed so parents, relatives and friends could watch online.

“We will be doing something, I just don’t know what it is yet,” Suttie said. “We’re going to do whatever we can for our graduates.”

Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray said the district is planning for several possible graduation dates, depending on guidance from state health officials. The dates under consideration are June 5, June 19, July 10, July 31 or Aug. 7.

The Scarborough school district is surveying students and parents to see whether they would prefer a virtual or traditional ceremony, and when that should be held. If Scarborough decides on a traditional ceremony, the schools may have a contingency plan for a virtual alternative in case large gatherings are still restricted.

Andrew Dolloff, Yarmouth’s superintendent, said a number of ideas are being discussed, including a “drive-in” ceremony, although the traditional June ceremony is preferable.

We are determined to hold a traditional commencement ceremony, if possible, as close as we can to June 7 – the originally scheduled date for Yarmouth High School’s graduation,” Dolloff said. “If it becomes clear that we won’t be able to hold a traditional graduation at that point or later in the summer, we will find the best way possible to celebrate our graduates.”

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