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Mayor Jacobs: Parents need to be part of upcoming high school graduations

Jacobs invited reporters Thursday so he could comment about the graduation pitch unveiled Wednesday by Knox County Schools.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knox County Schools' plan for holding high school graduation ceremonies this summer is a "first draft" that Mayor Glenn Jacobs would like to revisit.

Jacobs said he wants to see parents have the chance to view the ceremonies, something not fully guaranteed in the school proposal as unveiled Wednesday by Superintendent Bob Thomas.

Jacobs acknowledged he didn't have the authority to overrule Thomas. His strategy instead: Join the conversation about modifying what KCS wants to do.

“Now, after people have looked at it, we can all think about and say, “How can we make this better? How can we make this a better experience for everybody involved?” he said.

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“We can do better," he said. "These kids have worked 12 years for this moment and I don’t think it’s right to deprive them of that, or parents of their pride in being there.”

The system's plans aren't absolute. 

Tentatively, high school graduation ceremonies could be held as early as July 22 outdoors at high school stadiums or the World's Fair Park Pavilion for schools without stadiums.

Depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic ends up in the summer, KCS is also looking at the possibility of allowing a limited number of parents to attend the ceremony. 

For now, the ceremony would mainly just include graduates, and parents wouldn't be allowed to attend and would instead watch from a live stream. If the situation allows and the rate of infections is lower, though, KCS said it may be possible to allow some parents to attend. Parents will be able to receive a recording of the graduation, as well. 

Thomas told parents Wednesday he realized the proposal wasn't "ideal."

If the coronavirus sees a resurgence and greater social distancing measures need to be re-implemented, though, it is likely the graduation plans will be scrapped.

Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said Thursday the school system's plan is a good one. She noted that July is many weeks away and that circumstances could change.

Residents in the meantime need to follow community guidelines -- washing their hands, maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask in public -- to ensure people can continue to go out in public, she said.

"It's a flexible plan, it's not set in stone," she said. "There's an opportunity to evaluate what's possible in July."

Mayor Jacobs said he is working with community partners to see what changes could be made that still follow public health guidelines.

"We're all looking for alternatives to make it the best that we can," Jacobs told 10News. "We have to figure out a way that parents can be there because it's not only a special night for the kids who graduate, it's a special night for the parents."

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