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Howard County school system releases schedule for in-person graduations at Merriweather Post Pavilion

The Howard County Public School System on Thursday released the schedule for its in-person high school graduation ceremonies this spring.

The outdoor ceremonies, which will have capacity limits, will return to Merriweather Post Pavilion after last year’s commencements were prerecorded and streamed online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Graduations for the 12 public high schools — as well as Cedar Lane School — will be on a staggered schedule between May 28 and June 4, according to a news release from the school district. They will also be streamed online and broadcast on television (Channel 42 on Verizon and Channel 95 on Comcast).

Despite the optimism regarding the scheduled in-person commencements, Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano included a “caveat” during the Board of Education’s meeting Thursday that the graduation ceremonies can still be upended by the coronavirus.

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“While we fully intend to hold these as in-person events, we will monitor local health metrics in the weeks and days leading up to graduation, in case changes become necessary due to safety precautions,” he said.

2021 graduation schedule:

  • Cedar Lane School — 10 a.m. May 28
  • Wilde Lake — 3 p.m. May 28
  • Mt. Hebron — 11 a.m. June 1
  • Oakland Mills — 3 p.m. June 1
  • Atholton — 7 p.m. June 1
  • Marriotts Ridge — 11 a.m. June 2
  • Centennial — 3 p.m. June 2
  • Howard — 7 p.m. June 2
  • Reservoir — 11 a.m. June 3
  • Glenelg — 3 p.m. June 3
  • Long Reach — 7 p.m. June 3
  • Hammond — 11 a.m. June 4
  • River Hill — 3 p.m. June 4

*Homewood Center students will graduate with their home schools.

The schedule release comes three weeks after the district announced it would not have proms this spring because the indoor dances are not “safe and aligned to current health protocols,” Martirano said March 25.

All ceremonies will be at Merriweather except Cedar Lane School, which will hold its commencement on school grounds in Fulton.

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Martirano also said Thursday that “COVID-safe practices” will be required during the events. Guests, students and staff must wear masks and socially distance while at Merriweather.

The district’s plan is to limit the number of tickets for family members to two per student for lawn seating, and the number of speakers and performances onstage will be kept to a “minimum,” per the release.

In March, Gov. Larry Hogan’s statewide orders began allowing for larger capacities at events like graduations. The orders opened up large indoor and outdoor venues to 50% capacity, while keeping the state’s mask mandate in place.

Martirano left open the possibility for more tickets to be provided to students if the county’s coronavirus metrics improve.

“As more vaccines are distributed and with the hope for declining county positivity rates, [we] will continue working with the health department to consider possibilities for issuing additional tickets and other seating arrangements,” Martirano said Thursday.

The school system is also planning to allow students in the Class of 2021 who choose to not attend the in-person ceremonies to still participate virtually. Last year, the schools used pictures and videos in the prerecorded ceremonies that were streamed online.

In addition to graduations, each high school is planning to host outdoor senior night celebrations and awards ceremonies. On Thursday, Long Reach High School hosted a “sunrise” event for 60 members of its Class of 2021 to celebrate the start of the fourth quarter.

Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, which has a large lawn space behind its covered seating, has a capacity of around 19,000. A Merriweather Post Pavilion spokesperson told WJZ-TV in mid-March that it wouldn’t be opening for concerts despite the governor’s more lenient orders.

Last spring, after the coronavirus first shuttered school buildings, the topic of graduations was an important one for many in the community — especially for parents with seniors in the Class of 2020. The system decided to cancel the in-person events and instead streamed prerecorded ceremonies.

Meanwhile, some of the county’s private schools, like Glenelg Country School and Chapelgate Christian Academy, held drive-thru graduation ceremonies for its senior classes. Some neighborhoods even held small celebrations for the seniors who live on their street.

The last day of class for seniors this year will be May 28, about two and a half weeks before the official end of the school year.

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