O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) - In a year when many states are prohibiting in-person graduation ceremonies due to the coronavirus, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is not only allowing them, but will speak at one.
The Republican governor has a special bond with the indoor ceremony planned for Thursday night at Sparta High School in southwestern Missouri: His granddaughter is among the 42 seniors receiving diplomas.
Missouri reopened after the pandemic-forced shutdown on May 4, and Parson was among the few governors to give the go-ahead for large-scale gatherings, including graduation ceremonies.
Social distancing requirements remain in place, though, and most of Missouri's 555 public school districts and public charter schools are choosing other options such as drive-thru graduations or virtual ceremonies. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Mallory McGowin said some districts are postponing graduation until the summer in hopes of having in-person ceremonies then.
Sparta is in Christian County, where 20 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the state health department. Superintendent Rocky Valentine said the district is taking several precautions to protect against the spread of the disease.
Each graduating senior was allowed to invite up to 10 people, meaning the approximately 2,000-seat gym would be, at most, at around 25% capacity. Families will sit together, but spaced throughout the gym from others. However, masks or other face protection are not required.
Parson's reopening plan does not require masks. He has made several public appearances without a mask.
During his news conference Wednesday, Parson told graduates across the state that their senior year would not be defined by the virus.
"There will always - will always - be challenges in your life, but it's how we overcome these challenges that matters," Parson said.