From elementary school onward, Neosho students are taught a phrase designed to encourage them to stay in school and graduate. That phrase is "the tassel is worth the hassle." With school currently out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the question on the mind of the Neosho High School Class of 2020 is "what about graduation?"

At a work session of the Neosho Board of Education held online last week, board members, one of the agenda items dealt with possibilities to answer that question.

"We want to make some great opportunities for our seniors," Neosho High School principal Trent Barratt told the board. "We are trying to think outside the box if we're not back in school, and that looks like the case more and more each day."

Without making any decisions or taking any actions, the board held preliminary

Graduating seniors and their parents will be asked for input on graduation, other senior activities including painting senior hill, and prom. Questionnaires are being developed that will soon go out to parents and seniors.

Although graduation was originally scheduled in May at the Leggett and Platt Center on the Missouri Southern State University, it doesn't appear it will happen as planned.

School in Neosho and throughout most of Southwest Missouri is out of the classroom through at least Friday, April 24 but Dr. Jim Cummins, Neosho Superintendent of Schools, indicated it may be longer.

"Our intention is to convene with the other districts around April 17, to determine the next day, whether we'll go to the end of the school year or not," Cummins stated. "There's not a lot of optimism that we can come back in May."

Officials at MSSU have indicated that they can't predict dates when the Leggett and Platt Center could be used for graduation. The campus is currently closed and Missouri Governor Mike Parson has indicated that the center might become one of several locations around the state to use for medical care if needed during the current pandemic.

The options for graduation include scheduling it at a later date, in July, August, or event September at the Neosho High School's Bob Anderson Stadium. June isn't an option because of an ongoing project to install turf on the field. That project has been slowed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"The kids want a traditional graduation," Barratt said "They say 'the tassel is worth the hassle'."

Other potential options for graduation exist, including a live online event or a drive-through ceremony but both are just possibilities being explored. Whether or not prom will be held is another unanswered question at this time.

"Prom may have gone out the window," Barratt said.

The long-standing tradition of painting senior hill is another thing students want to keep. The district says it's possible although they may have to stagger painting with small groups to keep numbers under 10 and possibly have a weekend of activities for seniors at the same time.

Once feedback is received back from seniors and parents, the district will move toward making a decision about when, where and how to hold graduation for the Class of 2020.