CHEYENNE – COVID-19 has upended the remainder of this school year, and it was looking like a traditional graduation ceremony could be one of its casualties.
But after Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown met with Cheyenne Frontier Days officials Monday afternoon, in-person high school graduation ceremonies are tentatively planned for June 12 and 13 at Frontier Park Arena.
“It will be very similar to the ceremonies we’ve had in the past. We probably will not have nearly as many people,” said Brown, as he praised CFD’s generosity at the LCSD1 Board of Trustees meeting Monday night. “Now everything depends on putting a plan together and getting it approved by our county health officials.”
Each of Cheyenne’s four high schools are expected to have their own individual ceremonies, spread out over those two days. Brown said that CFD has also offered use of the grounds June 11 as a day of practice and June 14 as an alternative in case inclement weather cancels one of the ceremonies.
Brown is still in the process of finalizing details with principals and county health officials, but said he intends to announce firm dates by the end of this week to allow families time to plan for guests and individual celebrations.
“Preliminarily, our health officials were very positive about it,” Brown said. “If things (with COVID-19) got a lot worse, we might have some problems. … Right now, I’m feeling like it’s going to happen, and we’ll move forward with it.”
When the district closed all school buildings in March to slow the spread of COVID-19, students, educators and parents started brainstorming alternatives to holding an in-person commencement ceremony.
Last month, the district surveyed students and parents about their preferences for an alternative graduation ceremony. The options were to hold a virtual graduation ceremony, postpone the ceremony into late summer, or cancel it altogether and mail students their diplomas. Respondents overwhelmingly said they wanted to delay the ceremony with the hope that social distancing regulations would be relaxed enough to allow for one.
Brown said at a previous board meeting that he didn’t think that could realistically happen until the first weekend in August, after CFD in late July.
Since then, several states, including Wyoming, have started making plans to reopen their economies in the coming months.
On Monday, Dr. Alexia Harrist, Wyoming’s state health officer, approved Laramie County’s three-phase plan to fully reopen over six weeks. The first phase could start as soon as May 15, and would still call for people to work from home whenever possible.
If graduation ceremonies do happen in mid-June, as the district is planning, it would still be in the middle of the county’s reopening plan.
“How close would the contact be?” asked Trustee Nate Breen. “We need to be flattening the curve so we don’t invite a second wave. What are the parameters?”
Brown said the district is already in hot pursuit of thousands of face masks – ideally ones made with fabric that match each school’s colors.
“We will not be shaking hands,” added Brown, who said ceremony officiants would wear gloves and masks while handing out diplomas.
Brown also said that he’s spoken with county health officials, who told him that because the CFD arena is so large – it has a 19,000-person capacity – if family units sit together, there shouldn’t be a need for every single person to sit six feet apart.
“Some rows would have people in them, some would not,” said Brown, who estimated they could get between 4,000 and 6,000 observers in the stands and still adhere to public health regulations. “I believe (CFD) is kind of using us as a guinea pig because they may have to do some of that”during Frontier Days, which is still scheduled for July 17-26.
In addition to reviving the actual graduation ceremonies, the district is also collaborating with local businesses and agencies, like Western Vista Credit Union and the Downtown Development Authority, to soon post celebratory graduation banners on lamp posts and in residents’ yards – at no cost to students.
“The word grateful comes to mind,” board Chairwoman Marguerite Herman said of the effort.
Tracey Kinney, assistant superintendent of instruction, also announced that students will be able to register for classes for next school year beginning this Wednesday through May 22. The district has postponed course registration after it closed the schools in March.