Administrators pledge to celebrate graduation someway, somehow

| April 28, 2020 8:56 AM

Although restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of novel coronavirus are relaxing, local school administrators are still deciding how high school graduation festivities will look this year.

Gov. Steve Bullock announced last week that public schools could reopen in some capacity beginning May 7. Still, his plan for a phased-reopening of public life in Montana calls on district officials to remain cautious.

The roadmap calls for administrators to consider a mix of remote and face-to-face learning going forward. It also instructs administrators to consider “graduation environments that can meet the social distancing requirements.”

Officials in Libby and Troy are working on how to do just that. The only thing that Superintendent Craig Barringer knows for sure is that a traditional graduation ceremony is not in the cards for Libby seniors this year.

“We’re kicking around lots of ideas and actually looking for ideas on some way to do it,” he said last week. “We’re looking at ways we can do this graduation and stay within the guidance of what the governor and CDC has for us.”

Part of the difficulty is trying to predict what restrictions might look like in late May, Barringer said.

While delivering a statewide update on the COVID-19 crisis April 24, Bullock reiterated the lack of a set timeline to a full removal of restrictions. The first phase, which includes the staggered openings of shops, retail outlets, restaurants, bars, churches and schools, has no end date, he said.

“The virus still is in Montana,” Bullock said. “It will be with us for some time. That means that we may be in Phase One also for a long time.”

Barringer hopes to find a suitable way to recognize graduating seniors. Unlike other end-of-year events, which can be delayed or rescheduled, graduation has a hard deadline. After May 30, many outbound students have other commitments, whether its college or athletics. And cancelling the ceremony is not an option, he said.

“We have told them for 13 years that this is a big step in their lives and we want to make sure we celebrate that step,” he said.

Officials in neighboring Troy also are considering alternatives to a traditional graduation. Superintendent Jacob Francom said administrators are continuing to brainstorm ideas and have so far considered a parade in town, fireworks and potentially putting up banners celebrating seniors.

Another idea is setting up a podium for seniors to traverse while their families look on from personal vehicles “so they actually have a stage to walk across,” Francom said.

Officials there are looking at what other schools are doing for inspiration as well, he said.

Back in Libby, Barringer also floated the idea of a parade instead of the traditional graduation ceremony. Another option is setting up a camera on the football field and broadcasting seniors receiving their diplomas.

“This senior class lost senior sports and lost their prom,” Barringer said. “We’re going to do everything we can so that graduation is memorable.”