At the monthly meeting of the Neosho Board of Education on Monday, held via video conferencing, board members and staff talked about graduation. The 2020 commencement, originally scheduled for May, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A survey distributed to NHS Class of 2020 seniors indicated that a traditional graduation is their first choice with the traditional painting of Senior Hill a close second.

"We're hopeful that we will a traditional graduation," Neosho High School principal Trent Barratt said during the virtual meeting. Tentative plans are in the works with two options with both held in the high school gymnasium. One plan calls for one ceremony with limited attendance and the second for dividing the graduates into two groups held on two different days. That would provide the option of a larger attendance. Dates for graduation and other senior activities are currently the second or third weekend in June or the second or third weekend in July."

"We're still hopeful that some of this stuff gets lifted so some plans can work themselves out," Barratt said. "If June doesn't work, we can push back to July. But if July doesn't work out, we'll go back to the drawing board. ... Not a lot of them want to extend graduation to August. They are moving on or joining the military or joining the workforce."

Activities including Project Graduation, prom, and painting the hill would take place on the same weekend as graduation. Prom might be an indoor/outdoor event utilizing school facilities but definite plans have not yet been made. All plans,Barratt indicated, are dependent on the status of the pandemic at that time.

"It's our goal to get some dates on people's calendars," Dr. Jim Cummins, Neosho Superintende of Schools said, noting that they hope to firm up dates in the near future.

280 students are in the NHS Class of 2020. Of those, 35 have been at risk of not graduation. According to Barratt, 22 of those are very close while the remaining 13. "We can prioritize that thirteen," Barratt said. To help those seniors, graduation credit requirements have been dropped by one elective from 25 to 24 credits. The change is for this academic year only and is made from waivers from the state Department of Education.

"We're going to work as hard as we can to get them to the finish line," Cummins said.

Grades for seniors and all other students in the district are frozen as of March 6, the last day of class prior to spring break. Due to the corona virus outbreak, students never returned to the classroom. Governor Mike Parson announced that all schools will remain closed through the remainder of the school year although students are expected to continue with online coursework. Students will receive their grade as of March 6 although there are opportunities for them to bring up their grades with online work or projects. The grade freeze does not apply, however, to students enrolled in Dual Credit or Advanced Placement courses with area colleges. Those students must complete course work to receive credit.

"Doing work will only help their grades," Cummins said, for all students.

The board noted that student participation has dropped since the governor announced schools will be closed for the rest of the year.

The district will continue to deliver meals (breakfast and lunch) at no charge to students through June 5. Approximately 1800-1900 meals are delivered each week at three sites (Neosho High School, Goodman Elementary and Benton Elementary) and on 7 bus routes.

Assistant Superintendent of Operations Ritchie Fretwell updated the board on what's been happening in the closed campuses.

"Our custodians are helping teachers pack up their rooms to prepare for summer classes," he said. "Custodians have also been working hard painting. They've done a good job."

"There is a tremendous amount of work being done that nobody sees," Cummins commented.

The district hopes to offer summer classes but the exact details have not been determined.

The first day of school for the 2020-21 academic year is set for Monday, August 24.

"What will it look like?" Dr. Cummins asked. "There will probably be some drastic changes in how we do education."

Different scenarios may be necessary if social distancing continues into August. Planning remains dependent on what happens with COVID-19.

The board of education will meet on May 20 but it's yet to be determined whether they will meet in person or in video conferencing. "If the state opens up meetings, I will take guidance from the board on that," Cummins said.