Districts say they hope to also schedule in-person events to honor students, as guidelines allow
CLARK COUNTY — With a ban on large gatherings set to be extended well into late Spring or early Summer, Clark County school districts are trying to figure out the best way to move ahead with graduation ceremonies, especially for high school seniors.
While several districts are still working to figure out the best approach, Battle Ground and Evergreen will move ahead with a virtual graduation ceremony, using Herff-Jones, a company that specializes in graduation apparel, diplomas, gowns, stolls, and more.
Hockinson School District is using Jostens, a yearbook company, which will take submitted videos and produce the final ceremony video to be available online.
Vancouver and Ridgefield said they are still seeking feedback and working on plans they hope to announce next week.
“We all were hoping that we could celebrate in person our seniors’ very special year,” said Battle Ground Superintendent Mark Ross during this week’s board meeting. “Unfortunately, a lot of the data is not conclusive out there as far as the options that are available to us.”
Ross says that any of the companies they looked at for a virtual graduation need at least a month of lead time in order to get a project done, meaning they needed to make a decision soon, rather than wait to find out if in-person gatherings might be allowed in time for ceremonies in June.
“We’ve talked about perhaps delaying graduation ceremonies, perhaps even into the fall, in August and September,” said Ross. “We run into some problems with that, in that, of course, students would be potentially off to college, off to the military, off to jobs.”
There was also discussion about limiting graduations to seniors only, but that would still be a large group, said Ross, and there was no way to know if gatherings that size might be allowed in time.
The cost to Battle Ground School District is expected to be around $12,000, or approximately $12 per student. That money will come out of contingency funding available to the district, and was approved 5-0 by the board members on Monday night.
For that money, Herff Jones will contact each student with information on how to send a graduation photo, along with a quote or short video about themselves.
“And those are made into a virtual commencement ceremony,” says Angela Allen, the district’s director of instructional leadership.
That would include the regular commencement address, keynote speakers, and valedictorian speeches.
Allen says the district would assign people to comb through all of the submitted videos, to address any concerns over content appropriateness.
Evergreen School District is scheduling completed videos to air at the same time graduation ceremonies would have happened this year, followed by in-person celebrations when allowed.
“The journey of the Class of 2020 is quite an unusual story to tell and will continue to be as you share it for years to come,” said Superintendent Mike Merlino in a letter to families. “I know this is not how you imagined finishing your senior year. I want you to know we are doing everything we can to make this milestone special for you.”
Evergreen’s virtual graduation ceremony will be as follows:
- Fri., June 12 Legacy High School
- Mon., June 15 Henrietta Lacks Health and BioScience High School
- Tue., June 16 Evergreen High School
- Wed., June 17 Mountain View High School
- Thu., June 18 Transitions (5:00 p.m.) / Union High School (7:00 p.m.)
- Fri., June 19 Heritage High School
Evergreen graduates will be able to pick up a graduation gown, mortarboard and tassel at their high school, between May 11-13.
Every district has said they are hearing keen interest in having some sort of celebration for the 2020 class. That could include a drive-through event to pick up diploma covers, with teachers and administrators waving and honking. Most of the districts we contacted said those details are still being worked out, and more details would be available soon.
As for who will be featured in the videos, Battle Ground said every senior who was eligible to walk across the stage as of the date buildings were closed, which was March 13, will have a chance to be included.
“Maybe those kids in the video have to go to summer school, or haven’t quite made it there,” said Ross. “But we would rather err on not leaving any kids out, and then later screen them for getting their diplomas.”
The topic of virtual graduation ceremonies has been an unpopular one for many. A post about the issue in a Battle Ground community page on Facebook generated more than 300 comments in less than a day.
“Our daughter is in tears,” wrote one woman. “This sucks.”
“Something could be done!” added another. “Get creative.”
Still, a lot of people said their students understood that the crisis that shut down their school is bigger than missing out on graduation for now.
“My daughter is a senior too and we both feel there are worse things, like death,” said one parent. “We quarantine apart now so that when we celebrate graduation all the people we love will be there.”
“Our parents are very, very, very interested in doing some form of an in-person ceremony,” wrote Hockinson School District Superintendent Steve Marshall. “If requirements are relaxed — or if we come up with a creative format that meets safety considerations while also meeting the expectations of our families — I believe we are at the ready to pull together a live event.”