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Outdoor graduation the way to go for Lake Holcombe

The end of the school year, normally caps with a senior graduation ceremony, with parents, relatives and community members filling Lake Holcombe School’s gym. This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic changed how graduation looks.

After schools were mandated to be closed through June 30, Lake Holcombe put off their graduation ceremony, in the hopes that COVID cases would go down and restrictions would improve.

“That has not happened,” said superintendent Kurt Lindau at a regular school board meeting July 20.

Lindau says some districts did virtual ceremonies, while others held parades. Lake Holcombe pushed their ceremony off until Aug. 1, as the school wanted to have an actual ceremony, which they felt would have more meaning than a virtual affair.

The administration was planning an outdoor graduation, but after new guidance came from the County Health Department over the last couple weeks, recommending 50 or less for an outdoor event, the school planned to modify their plan. The new plan would have students, school board members and some staff at the ceremony, with a live stream for parents and an option for driveup picture taking.

“We have certainly gotten some negative feedback in regard to that,” said Lindau.

Lindau says he did some “leg work,” where he talked to other districts who were also waiting for conditions to improve, and says the others are going to proceed with an outdoor graduation ceremony and exceed what their county’s recommended limit is.

“I understand that this is a very emotional issue for people and rightfully so,” said Lindau.

Along with principal Mark Porter, Lindau said he is looking for administrative direction from the board, on what they want for graduation.

“How would you like us to proceed?” asked Lindau.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” said Porter.

Porter said he needs to move on with pulling the commencement together for Aug. 1, and prepare for the opening of the new school year.

Board treasurer/parent of a senior Anneleise Willmarth, says she has heard from a few parents, that if family (parents) is not able to attend, the student does not want to take part in the ceremony. She suggested giving tickets to each family and setting a limit on how many tickets each family would receive.

“I don’t know what that magic number is,” said Willmarth.

Lindau says he reached out to the health department, telling them the school has tried to follow their guidance, but asked if the board agrees to exceed limits, if the department would work with the school. Lindau says if members give wiggle room for the event, the health department will help ensure that the event is as safe as possible.

“I don’t claim to have any expertise in matters of public health,” said Lindau.

“Honestly, if there’s any way we can include parents in graduation…I’d like to see us try to go as safe as possible,” said Matt Flatter, board vice president/parent of a senior.

Willmarth pointed out that in some family situations, “parents” might not be the best wording, as some students are under guardianship, which makes non-named tickets a good thing.

Porter said they can grid the football field for pre-determined spaces of where people would stand/sit, which could keep the attendees social distanced.

“I think you’re either live streaming it, or the limit is four,” said Lindau.

“I would agree with that, a minimum of four,” said board clerk Jeff Anders. “As big as that football field is, you can grid it off.”

Board member Debbi Readinger said it sounds like the ceremony would not be well attended by students, if parents couldn’t be there.

Brian Guthman, board president, said the only thing is, he wants to ensure that the limit of four is enforced, as a neighboring district did not police their ceremony. When that happened, some students only had their two parents and siblings with them, while others brought their grandparents and other family members.

“It’s not right in my mind to let that happen,” said Guthman.

Anders said the ceremony should be fine, as it is on the football field and recommends that everyone wear masks, unless the health department states otherwise.

“It’s not like those 100 people are going to be sitting on the bleachers next to each other,” he said.

Porter said he will also live stream the event, with a rain date set for the following day (Aug. 2).

“It’s better than not doing anything, from where we’re at now,” said Willmarth.