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Sounds like a plan

The sun shines on a Ashland High School Graduating class. [Mail Tribune file photo]
School districts iron out graduation ceremony details

Local high school graduation ceremonies this year may seem unconventional compared to every year up to and including 2019, but they will mostly represent a cautious return to normalcy considering what they looked like last year.

Medford, Central Point, Phoenix-Talent and Ashland school districts will celebrate their 2021 graduates with outdoor ceremonies in early June, with details concerning the number of ceremonies and guests per grad to vary by school. Though school administrators and planners have learned to adjust to changes in state guidance throughout the school year — Jackson County’s plunge into extreme risk less than three weeks ago threatened to severely alter local celebrations — MSD communications coordinator Natalie Hurd is confident that the current graduation plan is the one that will stick.

“The (Oregon Department of Education) and (Oregon Health Authority) have given us confidence to continue planning with where we are in high risk, and so we are taking them up on that,” Hurd said. “It’s a huge piece to pull off graduation in a normal year, and last year we did 50 mini ceremonies at each school, so it was another huge feat and completely different than anything we had ever done.

“This year poses challenges as well, so we definitely were taking the time to diligently plan given the information that we have, and we’re feeling assured at this point that we’re going to be either be in high risk or in moderate risk at the time of graduation.”

The risk level of each county is a crucial factor to graduation planners because it determines the number of people allowed into the chosen venue. Currently, Jackson County is in high risk, and since graduation ceremonies must abide by the state’s sector guidance for outdoor entertainment establishments, the head count must not exceed 15% capacity of the chosen venue.

North Medford High and South Medford High will each have more than 300 graduates this year, so the 10,000-seat Spiegelberg Stadium operating at 15% capacity isn’t enough to hold all the family members and friends expected, especially since the district is handing out 10 tickets per graduate. To solve that problem, the district will be holding four abbreviated ceremonies June 5 for North Medford and South Medford at Spiegelberg. In addition, there will be one ceremony June 9 for Central Medford High on the front lawn of its old Oakdale property, 815 S. Oakdale Ave., and a single June 4 ceremony for the first-ever Medford Online Academy graduating class at Spiegelberg.

Each ceremony at South Medford and North Medford will be about an hour long, with South’s going from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and North’s from 3 to 9 p.m.

“It is going to be a larger ceremony, and so there are some complexities in that as well,” Hurd said, “but we are grateful that we’re not doing 50 at each campus.”

Hurd added that since the event will be operating under the ODE’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, unless that guidance is amended between now and graduation day masks will be required regardless of vaccination status.

Other details for MSD’s two largest high schools: After each ceremony, graduates and their families can head back to their high school for pictures; signs, banners, flags, noisemakers, balloons and other items that may disrupt the abbreviated ceremony will not be allowed into the stadium; and parking lots will open for spectators 30 minutes prior to the ceremony start time and gates open for spectators 20 minutes prior to the ceremony start time. Photo opportunities will be arranged for the families.

“We have a really tight timeline,” Hurd said, “so we’re setting up these really cool photo backgrounds at the sites so kids and families can go back to their school sites to take their post-graduation photos.”

Other districts in the Rogue Valley will offer similar celebrations. In Central Point, Crater High will have one ceremony for each of its three schools — June 8 (Crater School of Business Innovation Science), June 9 (Crater Academy of Health and Public Services) and June 10 (Crater Renaissance Academy), at Dutch Meyer Stadium.

Each Crater High student will be given four tickets to pass out to family and friends. The district will also hold a Senior Cruise community event — essentially a parade — for the seniors that begins at 7 p.m., June 7.

Phoenix High School’s ceremony is set for 6 p.m., June 12 at the newly renovated Jack Woodward Stadium. Principal Toby Walker said in an email that the school will have a single traditional ceremony, but that “the (county) risk level at the time of the ceremony will dictate how many spectators each graduate can have in attendance. I hate to throw out a spectator number because things keep changing … but right now the fewest a student could have would be two.”

Ashland High’s plan, sent out to parents Friday, calls for two ceremonies June 11 and three car parades June 12. The ceremony will most likely be held at Walter A. Phillips Field. Principal Benjamin Bell said the school is considering offering two spectator tickets to each grad, but that’s still being determined.

Ashland’s car parade was such a big hit in its emergency debut last year that the district decided to bring it back and is considering making it a permanent fixture, according to Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove. For the parade, the district will allow one car per student to be driven by a parent, guardian, adult or coach. For those students who don’t have access to a car, one will be provided.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.