An added bonus to planning an outdoor graduation ceremony for the first time at Hockinson High School means keeping one time-honored tradition alive.
“Part of the reason we decided to do it outside, other than general (COVID-19) safety, is it allowed our band to play,” Principal Andy Schoonover said. “Inside, we wouldn’t have had room for the band, and the band is something that’s really important to the school.”
School districts across Clark County are finalizing how their high school graduation ceremonies will play out next month. Unlike 2020, when coronavirus concerns forced districts to get creative with senior car parades, drive-thru or virtual ceremonies, schools are now preparing to return to more traditional ceremonies in 2021.
Even with a few first-time changes to have a coronavirus-safe ceremony.
For starters, that means graduations will be outdoors to promote physical distancing. An outdoor graduation is new for some, but for others, it also means a new off-site outdoor venue. The Sunlight Supply Amphitheater near Ridgefield, home to Vancouver Public Schools’ graduations for its comprehensive high schools, remains closed due to COVID-19.
Instead, Columbia River, Fort Vancouver, Hudson’s Bay and Skyview will have their ceremonies at the grandstands at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds. Others will have ceremonies on campus, with the exception of Vancouver Flex Academy (Fort Vancouver).
Another twist for some is choosing to have two sets of spectator sections at graduations. Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement on spectator events increased capacity limits for graduations. Under the new guidance, outdoor facilities may provide vaccinated-only seating for guests until their total capacity reaches 50 percent.
Graduates will be seated physically distanced, as will guests. As of Monday, though, two districts — Evergreen and Ridgefield — will have designated vaccinated and unvaccinated seating sections. Guests ages 12 and older must provide proof of full vaccination to sit in vaccinated-only sections. Guests in unvaccinated sections will be seated physically distant, but face coverings are still required in both seating sections.
At Evergreen, while logistical hurdles include managing different entry and exit points to enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols for two sets of spectators at McKenzie Stadium, it’s well worth it to provide potentially double the number of guests at the ceremonies. Each graduate receives four total guest tickets, two for each section.
“Even if it meant additional structures in place and additional staffing, we wanted to do this,” district spokeswoman Gail Spolar said. “Graduation is really important to the students and families and the more people we could allow in, we needed to do that for the kids.”
Like Hockinson, all Battle Ground Public Schools’ ceremonies will be outdoors for the first time at District Stadium, district spokeswoman Rita Sanders said. Both home and visitors’ grandstands, which features updated bleacher seating, will be utilized to accommodate guests.