Biddeford, and Old Orchard Beach high schools, along with Thornton Academy in Saco plan graduation dates. Journal Tribune file photo/Liz Gotthelf

Locally and around the state, high school seniors are about to finish their studies. They’ve played their last high school football game, presented their last school play, studied like mad, taken tests and now, because of the coronavirus, are continuing their learning at home.

Soon, they will graduate.

But with the continuing threat of COVID-19, and uncertainty about when restrictions about mass gatherings put in place because of it might ease, when to hold celebrations as these young adults end one phase of their life and embark on another has changed.  Thornton Academy in Saco and Old Orchard Beach High School  have set graduates ceremony dates later in the summer. Biddeford has a contingency plan in place should its original June 5 date be off limits.

School administrators have been making contingency plans since the virus made its way to the Northeast, and are doing what they can to make sure the Class of 2020 gets to celebrate in style.

In Biddeford, Superintendent of Schools Jeremy Ray sent a letter to seniors and their families April 22, outlining that given social distancing orders, and in consultation with the school physician, it was determined that a prom was not feasible, either before or after graduation ceremonies.

“One of the cruel consequences of the nation’s current health crisis is that people everywhere are being forced to miss rites of passage ranging from prom to weddings, graduations to funerals,” Ray  wrote. “It is a time of great uncertainty, disappointment, and angst.”

He said he knew that some decisions are disappointing, but that health and safety is paramount.

“My top priority for our seniors is to hold an in-person graduation,” said Ray, in part.

Virtual ceremonies for athletic awards would commence in May, Ray said, adding  that the school department may conduct some other end of year events in that manner.

Target dates for graduation ceremonies have been prepared, with times to postpone, if necessary, said Biddeford High School Principal Jeremie Sirois.

“In an effort to allow families to prepare, we are providing a calendar of target dates for graduation based on evidence that June 5 may not be a possibility,” Sirois wrote. “While we hold out hope that June 5 can be the night we celebrate graduation, I want to establish a schedule early so that if postponements are made, the community understands the next date for graduation.”

Currently, BHS graduation is set for 6 p.m. June 5 at Waterhouse Field, with a postponement decision date of May 16. If that happens, the next date is June 19, with a June 5 decision date, followed by a July 10 ceremony, July 31 ceremony, or Aug. 7 ceremony, with postponement decision dates along the way.

Thornton Academy will host a virtual Senior Assembly on June 4 and a Baccalaureate on June 5.

Live events, like a prom and graduation, have been set for later in the year — the prom is currently scheduled for Thursday, July 30 at The Landing; senior night and marching practice is set for July 31 and commencement is to take place on Sunday, Aug. 2. Thornton Academy, which serves as the public high school for Saco, had originally scheduled commencement for June 7.

TA officials said plans are in progress should in-person gatherings continue to be off limits.

In Old Orchard Beach, the high school graduation was originally listed for June 7, but that has changed. John Suttie, the high school principal and superintendent of RSU 23, told parents and students in a social media posting Monday evening that in person, live graduation events would be held in early August. Contingencies are in progress should in-person gatherings continue to be prohibited at that time, Suttie said.

“It is very important to us that we honor our seniors’ time at Old Orchard Beach and what it has meant to them and their families,” Suttie wrote. “We are acutely aware of the particular loss these changes pose for the class of 2020. So many end-of-year traditions have been impacted and it is simply not fair. While the end of senior year will undoubtedly be different for this year’s seniors and their families, we have worked hard to craft an alternative plan that allows us to celebrate student accomplishments and honor milestone celebrations.”

Senior Night and marching practice has been scheduled for Aug. 6, prom for Aug. 7 and commencement for Sunday, Aug. 9 at the  Seaside Pavilion.

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