High school and college seniors in Arkansas may have to wait until summer to celebrate their graduations because of COVID-19.


Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key on Saturday announced schools throughout Arkansas may not hold in-person graduation ceremonies until July 1. These guidelines are applied to public and private schools, which are all subject to social gathering guidelines from the Arkansas Department of Health.


Key said the state in the following week will begin to evaluate schools’ non-traditional graduation ceremonies, which can employ video and other remote means.


“When you have friends, family members coming from across the state, and in many cases, coming from out of state, for a traditional graduation ceremony, we simply cannot mitigate the risk of spread in that kind of a situation,” Key said.


Arkansas on Saturday had 2,830 COVID-19 cases and 49 deaths from the virus. State officials in response to the virus have closed all public schools in the state through the end of the semester.


Key said graduations, which are often the most highly attended events in smaller communities in Arkansas, could potentially be dangerous during an outbreak.


A number of high schools throughout the state have already started to explore remote means for hosting graduations, Key said. He said he will provide more details for these kinds of ceremonies to superintendents.


“My encouragement to our school districts would be to wait until after July 1, but if that’s not an option for you, then we will make this option available for you,” Key said.


Key said he will work with the Arkansas Department of Health before July 1 to determine if schools would be able to proceed with the graduation.


“What this date does is it provides certainty that schools have a date to look forward to in the future,” Key said.


As for the 2020-2021 school year, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said state officials are preparing for if the virus lingers or spikes again in the fall. Key said he and other education officials will present Hutchinson with options for the coming school year.


Hutchinson said the prevailing factor for whether to resume in-person classes is public health but said “it’s important to have class” from an educational standpoint.


"The first option, the intent, is that we’ll have a full school year and normal class operation next year,“ Hutchinson said, but added that it’s important for him and other state officials to keep other options available ”if circumstances dictate that’s necessary.“