Districts announce graduation plans

School officials in Iola, Humboldt and Marmaton Valley districts have set up alternate graduation plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Iola's will entail a drive-through/walk-through ceremony.

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Local News

May 7, 2020 - 10:17 AM

Stacey Fager, USD 257 superintendent, center right, listens as parents of IHS seniors voice frustration with the district’s graduation plan. The parents discussed options to recognize the seniors, such as purchasing banners similar to efforts made in other communities Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Graduation will look quite a bit different for the Class of 2020, as two Allen County school districts have announced plans to have modified ceremonies May 16.

Iola High School seniors will receive diplomas beginning at 10 a.m., and Marmaton Valley High School seniors will have a similar event at 6 p.m.

Both will organize a sort of combination drive-through/walk-through event.

Graduation plans for Humboldt High School have yet to be announced, but USD 258 Superintendent Kay Lewis said she plans to discuss the matter with the school board Monday night. Lewis said she would like to have a traditional commencement ceremony in late June or July, resorting to a virtual ceremony as a backup plan.

Graduation plans were thrown awry when Gov. Laura Kelly announced March 17 school buildings would be closed for the rest of the year amid social distancing guidelines to prevent spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The state continues to prohibit mass gatherings of more than 10, and requires 6 feet of distance between people.

Districts developed learning plans to educate students through the rest of the year, but it was unclear what might happen with milestone events like graduation and prom.

Some solutions at districts across the state have been to offer a very limited ceremony restricted to only a few family members, offer a virtual ceremony or wait until the health crisis is past.

A gaggle of Iola High School seniors gathered for a get-together in the senior parking lot Wednesday, which would have been the seniors’ last day of school. They are, front row from left, Kallen Lieurance, Carlie Payne, Sadrie Overall, Haley Carlin, Torre DePriest, Elysia Kunkler, Kelsey Morrison and Gaby Lampe; back row, Tiffany Dokes, Kayton Godfrey, Michael Price, Adryan Nading, Trevelle Means, Raylea Wilson, Pieter Venter, Gary Lower, Zane Whitney, Brody Nemecek and Calvin Delich. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

IHS

Iola seniors will be allowed to bring up to five family members to a drive-through and then walk-through ceremony. 

Superintendent Stacey Fager described the process as similar to the way prom attendees arrive.

Seniors and their families will arrive in vehicles on Cottonwood, on the northeast side of the high school. At some point, organizers will direct families to exit the vehicle and enter a staging area, where family members will observe social distancing. The driver can then park to join the occasion. 

Families will enter one at a time, where the graduate will cross the stage to receive a diploma inside the high school gym. Family members can take photos, then exit through the northwest doors of the gym.

The ceremony will be live-streamed on the IHS YouTube channel.

Wednesday’s announcement drew the ire of a group of parents, who gathered on the high school lawn to voice their frustration and plan alternate ways to recognize the seniors. Fager, who also is a parent of a graduating senior, attended.

Most of the 22 gathered said they preferred waiting to have a more traditional ceremony later in the summer and were upset that the district did not consult parents before making graduation plans. Students received a survey Wednesday morning, asking their preference, just hours before the announcement. Parents asked why send a survey when the decision had already been made. 

Fager said the district considered multiple options, including postponing the event until later in the summer. The uncertain future created by the pandemic is of primary concern, he said. It’s impossible to know if such a ceremony will be allowed in late June or July, and the district would have to resort to an alternate plan like a virtual ceremony that would be less personal and less memorable, Fager said.

Also, at least three graduates are leaving for military training soon and several others have impending commitments such as mission trips, work or continuing education.

“If we waited until July, and 10 or 15 couldn’t show up, we would have taken that opportunity away from those students,” Fager said. “We looked at what we can do at this time to celebrate our seniors, and to ensure as many of them as possible would be able to attend. The longer you put it off, the greater the number of seniors won’t be able to attend.”

The district had limited options and consulted with the county’s health officer to develop the plan. 

The district also sought clarification that it would not violate the governor’s prohibition against graduations. As long as the event restricts participation to 10 or fewer at a time, and maintains appropriate social distancing guidelines, it will be allowed.

“This is the plan that was approved by our county health officer,” Fager told the parents repeatedly when they asked why the event couldn’t be postponed or moved to the football stadium.

Iola High School senior Elysia Kunkler tosses a bean bag as part of a corn hole game Wednesday. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register
Kelsey Morrison, right, tosses a beanbag as part of a corn hole game at Iola High School. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register
Iola High School seniors gathered for a small get-together Wednesday, which would have been their last day of school. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register
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An outdoor ceremony was vetoed because it would have been more difficult to enforce social distancing efforts, he said.

“The board weighed everything, the students’ interest, the parents’ interest, and also there is a public health piece of this that the school district feels obligated to abide by and help in any way,” Fager said. 

“If we support it, our children will support it. Come next Saturday, my senior will be so excited to put on her cap and gown and graduate. We’re still giving them an opportunity to celebrate.”

The parents made plans to purchase banners with senior photographs, as other area districts have done, and plan to display those banners at the ceremony. They also discussed the possibility of organizing a parade of vehicles. Fager said the district could not organize such an event, so it would be up to the parents to do so.

The district might be able to recognize the seniors in another way, after the health crisis has passed and the restrictions lifted. 

“There could be opportunities for a senior recognition at the first football game or homecoming, or at next year’s graduation,” he said. “There could be a lot of opportunities down the road, but there are just too many unknowns this summer.”

IHS SENIORS can pick up caps and gowns from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday at the high school.

Iola seniors were originally scheduled to graduate Saturday.

MVHS

Seniors will be limited to two family members for a walk-through event at MVHS. 

Students and their families will line up in vehicles at the Moran City Park and drive to the school. Although it’s not an official parade, residents can step outside to wave to the seniors along the way.

Then, seniors and their families will line up in alphabetical order to walk through the senior hallway to receive their diplomas and take pictures.

“It will be a very different graduation, obviously,” Kim Ensminger, MVHS principal and incoming USD 258 superintendent, said.

“Graduation is a transition point for seniors, springing them into adulthood. We need to recognize this point in their life.”

The event will be streamed on the district’s Facebook page and YouTube site.

The date and time of MVHS’s graduation is taking place nearly as planned, except an hour earlier to accommodate the social distancing restrictions. 

HHS

Humboldt plans to have a more traditional ceremony later in the summer, although it will depend on whether the governor’s restrictions will have been lifted by then. If a ceremony isn’t possible, the district likely will offer some sort of virtual recognition.

“I would like to have a face-to-face graduation,” Lewis said. “These seniors have had enough taken away from them this year. Graduation is a milestone in your life and for some kids, this may be the only time they walk across the stage.”

Plans, including the date and any social-distancing modifications, have not yet been determined. Lewis said determining a date later in the summer could be problematic, as students may leave the area to start careers and college.

HHS seniors were supposed to graduate Saturday.

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