Schools innovate — or defy health guidelines — with graduation ceremonies

Update: Minico High School is  changing in-person graduation plans, the Twin Falls Times News reports.  

East Idaho’s Madison School District will host two in-person graduation ceremonies this spring.

One falls within the guidelines of Gov. Brad Little’s plan to reopen Idaho. The June 13 graduation for Madison High School is planned for the same Little is tentatively scheduled to allow gatherings of 50-people or more.

The other does not.

Next week, around 20 graduates from the district’s alternative Central High School will walk across a stage in front of their parents at Bobcat Stadium. Superintendent Geoffrey Thomas says the gathering will be fewer than 100 people, asked to social-distance in the 6,500-seat arena.

But Idaho will only be in stage two of a reopening plan next week, and gatherings are supposed to be no larger than 10 people. Thomas said the district is moving forward with its graduation because alternative school students won’t be able to attend a ceremony in June.

“If we wait until after Memorial Day … there is no ceremony. They’re off working, gone, moved,” he said. “We feel like, as long as we can accommodate them in a spacious stadium setting, let’s just move forward. We’d rather have the graduation than not have it.”

The staggered ceremonies are an example of the complicated calculations school districts are weighing when it comes to whether — and how — to hold graduation ceremonies for their students.

Some Idaho districts have delayed in-person graduations until gathering restrictions are eased. Others have planned innovative drive-up or drive-in ceremonies for their graduates. A few plan to move forward with in-person celebrations that will violate the state’s reopening timeline, even if participants social distance or wear masks.

The State Board of Education has issued guidance to schools throughout the pandemic regarding when to close and how to reopen.

Their guidelines did not address in-person graduation ceremonies, State Board president Debbie Critchfield said. Those guidelines “defer to the general staged reopening approach” if something isn’t explicitly stated, she said. That means gatherings of more than 50 participants are not allowed until June 13, at the earliest.

The board has not discussed any enforcement or penalties for schools that don’t adhere to state guidelines, Critchfield said.

“We have left those decisions to the coordination of local boards and local public health,” she said.

Postponed graduations 

Nampa: The Nampa School District will hold its graduation ceremonies in late June and early July at Northwest Nazarene University and the Ford Idaho Center. The dates would fall after Idaho is tentatively scheduled to reopen completely, and right now the graduation plans don’t account for social distancing in the arenas, the district said in a May 8 letter to parents and guardians.

‘If guidelines or expectations change, we will let you know,” the letter said. “If we do have to social distance within the arena, we may have to issue tickets.”

Initial graduation dates for the seniors were planned for late May. District schools will still celebrate on those dates with socially-distanced parties. Nampa High School, for example, will invite students to decorate their cars and drive in a parade.

Drive-ups, drive-ins and other innovations 

Snake River High School: Graduation will be split into groups of five seniors each on June 3, when the state’s health regulations will allow for gatherings of 10 to 50 people as long as they observe physical distancing. The school will limit family groups to six  people, and ushers will ensure “all guests strictly follow the rules.” Each senior and their group will walk down “memory lane” with highlights from their four years at the school, then will enter a room with their family to watch prerecorded graduation addresses, walk a stage to receive their diplomas and have a chance to say goodbye to school staff. Groups of seniors will be spaced 10 minutes apart, the district told the Bingham County Chronicle. 

“We do not promise this graduation will be perfect,” the class and student body presidents wrote in a letter. “We do however, promise a unique and incomparable experience.”  

Idaho Falls: Idaho Falls seniors will celebrate graduation at a drive-in movie theater, a number of media outlets reported in late April. Some 460 spots are available at the Motor Vu Drive In for families to watch a graduation ceremony on the screen, which would include a slideshow of graduates as administrators read names aloud.

There will also be a fireworks show with school colors, the Post Register reported. The celebration will be live-streamed.

Boise School District: Seniors will have a drive-up graduation called “Turn the Tassel/Walk the Stage.” Students and their parents can drive up to their high school during the last week of school, then walk a stage set up outside. Staff and faculty will celebrate the graduates, and families can take photos in their caps and gowns in front of a school backdrop. The district is also partnering with the Idaho Press to compile a “virtual graduation celebration,” with grad profiles for each student, speeches and a keepsake graduation program.

Lincoln High School (Bonneville): This school will stream a graduation ceremony on the evening of May 29, then seniors are invited to come pick up diplomas at the school.

Parades: Districts from Marsh Valley to Pocatello will  host car processions and parades for students in lieu of a graduation walk.

In-person ceremonies still planned

Wendell High School: Wendell High School announced this week that they will invite anyone to attend graduation on May 20, as long as they’re not feeling sick, and they bring their own chair. Attendees are encouraged to wear masks and follow social-distancing guidelines.

Graduates can bring up to 10 family members to the graduation, and the high school plans to keep those families socially distanced from other families on a grid set up on the football field. Family members will enter the field as a group and be escorted to their box on the grid. Afterward, families are expected to leave as a group, and are discouraged from gathering in the parking lot.

Superintendent Tim Perrigot said in an email  that the district had decided on the graduation date prior to the release of Little’s reopening guidelines. A virtual ceremony was not a viable option for his district, he said, because families struggle with connectivity.

Perrigot said the district has been in contact with the South Central Public Health district and has made changes to the ceremony to better protect the health of students and families.

Minico High School: Minico High had scheduled an in-person graduation ceremony for May 21 at the Rupert High School football field, despite the governor’s restriction on in-person gatherings, the Twin Falls Times-News reported.  But on  Thursday, March 14 the school reversed course after new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the area, according to the Times News.

The South Central Public Health District told the Times-News they had concerns about the timing of the graduation, but that they are not required to approve mass gatherings such as graduations.

Following the new cases of COVID-19 in Minidoka County on Tuesday and Wednesday, the school said it would work on an alternative plan for the same date.


Sami Edge

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