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Butler County seniors, parents fear coronavirus threatens high school proms, graduations

33 students received their diplomas during the Middletown Life Skills Commencement Ceremonies Friday night at Miami University Middletown.
33 students received their diplomas during the Middletown Life Skills Commencement Ceremonies Friday night at Miami University Middletown.

Credit: Martin Wheeler III

Credit: Martin Wheeler III

High school graduations and proms are lining up as the next possible victims of statewide school shutdowns from the coronavirus.

School officials in Butler and Warren counties said this week that it’s too early to make the call, but some area high school seniors and their parents are worried about losing out on the once-in-a-lifetime events.

The area’s largest number of participants in high school commencement ceremonies comes from the 16,500-student Lakota Schools, which has the ninth largest enrollment in Ohio.

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Lakota officials echoed other local school district leaders saying they have held some preliminary discussions with officials at scheduled venues – Lakota East and West high schools hold their graduations at Xavier University’s Cintas Center – concerning the possibility of re-scheduling or cancellation.

Other districts use a variety of gathering places.

“Middletown, like everyone else, has not yet made any determination regarding graduation,” said Elizabeth Beadle, spokeswoman for the 6,400-student district.

“Our graduation is (outside) at Barnitz Stadium, so we do not need to discuss with a university.”

Traditionally in area school calendars, high school proms are held in April through mid-May and graduations from mid-May to early June.

Talawanda Schools has already postponed its prom and will try to determine a later date if possible, said officials.

Pam Pratt, spokeswoman for Edgewood Schools said “that subject is TBD for Edgewood. We have been in contact with Miami University and continue to be in discussion with them (about graduation). It’s a matter of waiting based on the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Warren County’s largest school system, Mason Schools, has officials exploring alternative plans they admit are all on hold until further word from state officials who closed down all K-12 schools as part of the sweeping COVID-19 safety shutdowns.

“We know what an important rite of passage prom and graduation are for our students, and we especially empathize with our Class of 2020 students and their families as they navigate these uncertain times,” said Tracey Carson, spokeswoman for the Mason.

“Our high school team is putting some thought into how an alternative commencement could work if that becomes necessary, but we will have to rely on guidance from our public health partners about any of these dates.”

In Butler County’s Ross Schools, senior Zach Ungermann said not knowing about either graduation commencement or prom is hard.

If both or either is cancelled, said Ungermann, “a lot of students will be disappointed.”

He described his senior classmates as “very frustrated and sad but still hopeful too,” the virus shutdowns will abate soon enough to allow both.

His father Eugene Ungermann, feels for his son and others.

“They are difficult to phantom that they are not going to get those opportunities. They have been working hard for that with all the anticipation and preparation. For all the kids who are seniors this year it’s a little bit disheartening,” he said.