KILLEEN, Texas — Killeen Independent School District Superintendent Dr. John Craft said in a press conference Tuesday the district would move forward with a virtual graduation in May with the intent of having a traditional graduation in July.

Craft said the district reserved the Bell County Expo Center for July 20 and 21 so all of the districts 2,500 seniors could get the graduation, "Celebration they deserve."

For the virtual graduation at the end of May, each student was asked to submit a photo of themselves in their cap and gown. It will be placed on a slide along with a message and it will pop up when their name is called during the ceremony.

Online Petitions calling for in-person graduation started up after the virtual graduation plan was announced.

Several other Central Texas school districts have announced plans to have outdoor ceremonies that are permitted under Governor Greg Abbott's reopening plan.

Chief of Communications for KISD, Taina Maya, said Monday the virtual graduation has all 2,464 graduating seniors in mind. 

"We have evolved our plan a ton but we have a lot of students that are either special needs, can't be outside, have weak immune systems or are PCSing and can't be here for a later date," Maya said. "So virtual allows us to do something for all our students now."

Craft and Maya both told 6 News Leo Buckley Stadium was considered as an option but the school district decided against it for multiple reasons. 

Craft said the logistics of organizing graduation for five high schools, including the parking "becomes complicated."

Maya later explained to 6 News KISD had determined they would be able to use exactly 1588 seats in the stadium under current TEA rules. The school district had nearly 2500 graduates alone. Maya explained that even dividing the graduation into five separate events, the students would probably only have been able to invite one person each. Weather and cleaning requirements were additional concerns. 

Craft said having it in July would hopefully allow for traditional graduation to ensure the seniors are, "Recognized in a manner that does not minimize their accomplishments."

Craft also said the district offices would open May 18 followed by a return to work for all employees on June 1. He said these are projected dates based on the state's reopening plan.

"We are anxious and excited to reopen buildings next week and again for employees to return to work," Craft said.

Despite the plans for the July ceremonies, parents and seniors said Monday they were still not happy.

"I am disappointed that they are not going the extra mile for our kids like other districts are for theirs," Harker Heights senior parent Angela Roberts said. 

Craft said the effort to allow parents to come to get things that were left at the school and to drop off school property had begun this week. The information on when and how to do it was posted to the KISD website.

Craft also spoke about the district's plans for reopening school this summer and in the fall.

"As far as the opening for the 2020-2021 school year, currently we are slated to commence school on August 17," Craft said. "We have not recommended any changes to the start nor the calendar for the 2020 school year."

He said they were looking at a hybrid school year with extended breaks throughout the year or a split schedule in which students attend for a partial day and then have virtual learning the other part of the day.

Craft said the summer school program would be offered for both remediation and acceleration. 

"We are looking at a virtual platform as we speak," Craft said. "We are also looking at potential students coming to the campuses."

Craft called the virtual learning program since schools closed promising.

"We have over 350,000 individual hits to these sites," Craft said. "So, that's very promising to see the number of students and participation rates where they are."

Craft said they were continuing to offer morning breakfast and lunches.

"Our dedicated school nutrition staff has served now over 140,000 individual meals," Craft said. "They have done a tremendous job and we do appreciate their continued dedication and service."

Craft said the traditional summer meal program would begin June 1.

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