CHATHAM, Va. — This year, Pittsylvania County Schools (PCS) plans to hold in-person outdoor graduations at each of its four high schools, which the Pittsylvania County School Board approved the schedule for on Tuesday evening.

Chatham High School, Dan River High School and Gretna High School will have their graduations on Friday, June 4, 2021 at 6 p.m. at their prospective football fields, with a rain date for Saturday, June 5, 2021 at 9 a.m.

Tunstall High School will have their graduation on Saturday, June 5, 2021 at 6 p.m. on the football field.

With the adjustment of Executive Order 72 by Governor Ralph Northam, the division decided to cancel their usual indoor events held at Averett University’s Grant Center, as indoor graduations are limited to a maximum of 500 people, or 30 percent of the venue capacity, whichever is less.

Outdoor locations will allow each high school to host 5,000 people or 30 percent of the venue capacity listed on the certificate of occupancy, whichever is less. No certificate of occupancy exists for the football fields at the high school, but a ration of 40 square feet per person was utilized to determine occupancy limits.

Mike Hudson, director of maintenance/facilities at PCS calculated the square footage for each football field to determine the capacity, which ranged from 910 to 1,096 people depending on the football field measured, as they are each different. 

Other COVID-19 protocols are expected to be followed at graduations, including mask wearing and ensuring proper distancing. 

“Even though the number of attendees will be substantially lower than at past graduations, an outdoor event will allow all of Pittsylvania County’s high schools to offer an in-person culminating ceremony for their seniors while maximizing the number of people that can be invited to attend,” Director of Secondary Education Elizabeth Craig said in a memo to the board.

Craig said the plans reflect the current guidelines set forth in the Governor’s Order and will be adjusted as needed. 

Division Superintendent Dr. Mark Jones said this solution of outdoor graduations allows attendees to socially distance while allowing a larger number of family members at graduations.

“I think our principals will enjoy the graduations being back at the schools,” Jones said.

In other business, the board approved their support for a one percent sales tax for school capital improvement projects. 

In January 2021, the board approved a resolution requesting the county to initiate a referendum for the additional local sales tax revenue for the construction or renovation of schools. The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors has placed a resolution on their April 2021 agenda to initiate the referendum to authorize the county to level the sales tax not to exceed one percent to provide solely for those projects.

Jones said he has recently met with the county government, city government, city schools and the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, as well as made contact with the local NAACP and the State Farm Bureau about this effort. 

The division is developing an informational PowerPoint to be able to show civic groups and other organizations the capital needs in the division. It would include a look at seven elementary schools built in the 1960s and the Pittsylvania Career and Technical Building that was built in the late 1970s, showing improvements such as expansion for additional classroom space, as well as chillers to be rebuilt or replaced.

The total cost estimated on these projects is $45 million dollars, which Jones said is what could be generated by a one percent sales tax over 30 years.

In addition, Jones gave an update on the stages of students returning to school, in which the division has been using a phased approach to get as many children back into in-person classrooms, as space will allow.

Currently, in elementary school, there are 2,598 students in person either two or four days per week, with 797 completing school remotely. 

At the middle school level, there are just over 1,000 students attending either two or four days per week, with more than 700 students remote.

At the high school level, there are 1,252 students attending either two or four days per week, with 1,410.

Star-Tribune Staff Writer

Lanie Davis, a Danville native, joined the Star-Tribune in 2018 as a staff writer. Lanie was awarded 1st place in Education Writing by the Virginia Press Association in 2019.

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