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Pandemic pushes local graduations outdoors for a year

Audience sizes will depend on local health departments
Posted at 10:27 PM, Apr 08, 2021

MISSOULA — The final details are still being worked out, but it appears many of the largest local school districts in Western Montana will once more be outdoors for the Class of '21, as pandemic safety measures continue.

While we're making progress with vaccinations and dropping COVID case numbers, school districts in Western Montana are following last year's Commencement course, opting to move ceremonies outside, and limit attendance to close family members.

District leaders in Hamilton have been planning on a repeat of last year's ceremony for the past few months.

"People seemed to really enjoy it, despite everything that happened," said Hamilton School District spokeswoman Justine Stewart. "So we're hoping it will be an outdoor event, weather pending. And right now the board has decided that each graduate will have four guests. So four guests per graduate. And that's kind of where we're at. That could change. The pandemic is ever-evolving, so you know, we would love to increase that number. But for right now we're sticking with 4."

Corvallis School Superintendent Jon Konen says the high school is also planning outdoor Commencement, with details being worked out.

"Well, we're going to have it obviously and we're going to have it outside like we did last year. I think they had a great reception last year of community support by having it outside. And we're definitely going to do that again. So we'll get as many people as we can there to celebrate these kids."

Stevensville High School was already expecting this to be a different graduation even before the pandemic, because of the district's extensive reconstruction project and the consolidation of the school year. Seniors will finish May 14, with graduation on May 16.

"Obviously we won't have all of the answers until we can get a better idea of what vaccination rates look like and what community infection rates look like," explained School Superintendent Bob Moore. "But we'll be working very closely with the Ravalli County Public Health Department and obviously our school board examining information and taking recommendations from the administrators as to what that will look like."

Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) administrators are already planning on having Commencement at Washington Grizzly Stadium on June 4, with June 5 as an alternative date for bad weather. Like last year, it won't be open to the public, but there will be a live stream. MCPS is working with the health department and UM on the details, and how many tickets per graduate.