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2020 high school grads will walk at Fairgrounds

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | May 6, 2020 1:00 AM

2020 high school grads will walk at Fairgrounds

Local commencement ceremonies will still happen for high school seniors, just in a unique way.

The Coeur d'Alene School Board unanimously voted on Monday to move forward with a high school graduation ceremony plan that will comply with recommendations and guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and the Idaho State Board of Education with approval from Panhandle Health District.

"Drive-in" commencement events will take place at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds, allowing for 6 feet of social distancing between vehicles and taking safety measures so students may cross a stage in cap and gown.

“They want to wear that cap and gown, and they want to walk," said Coeur d'Alene High School Principal Libbi Barrett.

Barrett said her jaw dropped at the possibilities when she recently visited the fairgrounds with director of secondary education Trina Caudle.

“It sounded too good to be true,” Barrett said. “I had been really struggling with a viable solution that would include 315 graduates, and maybe in cars.”

During the Monday meeting, it was explained that area businesses will help orchestrate the events using a stage with a sound system and video wall. Plans are in motion to broadcast the events on FM radio so people parked in their cars can tune in, like an old-school drive-in movie, and the ability to live-stream is in the works so those who can't attend in person can still watch. An ADA-accessible ramp will be on site for those with disabilities.

The cost is estimated at $1,600 per school or up to about $5,000 per district, although the venue, parking assistance, infrastructure and site management will be provided by the fairgrounds for free. Events like this usually would cost a few thousand dollars, said fair general manager Alexcia Jordan.

"This is a crazy time we’re all faced with, and being able to offer something that can create a positive impact on anyone, especially these students, is just an honor, really," Jordan said. "I’m just thrilled to see them have a graduation. No senior should be without that milestone."

Lake City High Principal Deanne Clifford said the drive-in graduation plan was something that was brought to her attention right away when kids started realizing they probably weren’t coming back to school.

"It was the first recommendation by students," she said. "Kids are really excited about that. Up until very, very, very recently, we’ve been trying to figure out a way to hold those events on our campuses, and it’s really fortunate that we have opportunities for the fairgrounds.”

So far Coeur d’Alene High, LCHS, Post Falls High School, Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy, Timberlake and Lakeland high schools will participate in fairgrounds commencement ceremonies.

"We’re very pleased and thankful we have this opportunity," said Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane. "I think it's a reasonably good way to honor our wonderful class of 2020 in this environment."

“It has been so tough for our seniors and their parents this spring,” said Lakeland Superintendent Becky Meyer. “They will never get this time back, so we are extremely happy that we will be able to have a graduation ceremony for our seniors that celebrate their accomplishments and hard-earned diploma.”

Because of its small class size of 34 grads, Venture High School will conduct a more intimate but safe event. Principal Teresa Kaiser said her grads will have a 6-feet-apart barbecue held outside, when the seniors will also be given supplies to decorate their cars for graduation. They'll stage behind the school and drive through for diplomas.

"What we’re trying to do is set up an atmosphere for the kids that’s going to feel fun for them anyway," Kaiser said.

Exact dates and times for the events are still tentative as details are still being mapped out. Normally, principals start planning graduations as early as January or October. Instead of four months, they now have four weeks to get everything ready.

“This is going to be like no other graduation we’ve seen, or probably, hopefully, will ever see again,” said Coeur d'Alene School Board Chairman Casey Morrisroe. "It’ll be a heck of a story in 20 years."