Deerfield High School will hold in-person graduation on July 26, after parents of seniors overwhelmingly in a survey chose that over a virtual ceremony.

The school board voted on May 18 to set the event for 1 p.m. Sunday July 26. Superintendent Michelle Jensen stressed that if COVID-19 public health orders ultimately prohibit a gathering, it will not be rescheduled for in-person.

“At that point, we would create some kind of virtual ceremony,” Jensen said.

The school district will hold a virtual “recognition,” of seniors on June 7, their original graduation date.

The decision came as a new Dane County public health order that went into effect May 19 continues to require schools to remain closed due to COVID-19. The Dane County order replaces a statewide order that on May 13 was ruled invalid by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The school board discussed several dates for an in-person gathering, eventually choosing late July, saying many graduates would likely be preparing to leave or will have already left for college by August.

Parents, in the survey, were given three choices: holding both a full-length virtual ceremony on June 7 and a full-length in-person ceremony later in the summer; having one virtual ceremony only on June 7; or having a June 7 recognition and then an in-person ceremony later in the summer.

Jensen said about 70 percent of parents opted for a June 7 recognition and a late-summer in-person ceremony.

The 2020 graduating class is small, with about 35 students, Jensen noted.

In other matters the school board on May 18:

• Approved an $8,000 annual grant, funded by Dane County, to help cover the cost of driver’s education and driver’s permit and license fees for students in need. Jensen said Deerfield has received the grant in past years. “It has really helped a good number of our high school students be able to get a license,” Jensen said. “I am so very excited that Dane County has kept this a part of their budget. It’s got a lot of value to it; we are pleased to be part of this program.”

• Voted to seek a waiver from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, to allow Deerfield schools to finish out the 2019-20 school year with fewer instructional minutes provided to students than required in state statutes. Jensen said this is due to the COVID0-19 pandemic, which shut schools statewide beginning March 16. She said per state statutes, the waiver is good for four years. “It doesn’t mean we have to use it for four years but … that might come in handy next year if we are still struggling,” Jensen said.

• Jensen told the board she was expecting to learn more in conference calls later in the week about the current public health order that is keeping schools closed, and how long that might continue. “We will be doing more talking about what that means for July and August,” including whether summer school can go on, perhaps in small group settings, she said. “We could see some things open up in July and August,” Jensen said, although she admitted that might also be “wishful thinking.” “Things are still changing,” Jensen said. “There are a lot of moving parts.”

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