The Kern High School District Board of Trustees has decided to hold graduation ceremonies in late June but with limited guests and much less pomp and circumstance than previous years.
Up until a motion was made during a Wednesday morning meeting, trustees went back and forth on logistics for holding safe and legal ceremonies. They ultimately decided to hold them the week of June 22, allowing a maximum of two guests per graduate and, if needed, to start ceremonies at a later time in the evening due to potentially high temperatures.
“There will be some students who will have difficulty with just two guests, and although it breaks my heart, I think that is the smart thing to do,” said Superintendent Bryon Schaefer.
Students and guests will have assigned seats on their school's football field, reducing the need for families to show up early for seating. If a school doesn’t have a stadium, the ceremony will be held at a nearby school.
In order to keep attendance low, there will be no bands or choirs performing.
Additional details, such as how to file in families and how to hand out diploma covers, will be determined in the coming weeks by district officials.
The ceremonies will take place unless the district receives pushback from a governmental agency, according to the motion. Plans could also change depending on the progress of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order.
As trustees sorted through various options and details, one thing was determined early on: holding some sort of ceremony was paramount.
“A month ago, I was less optimistic about this than I am currently,” said Trustee Joey O’Connell. “Never have I seen so much broad support on an issue from schools.”
Prior to the start of board deliberation, Schaefer read approximately 30 public comments from students and parents in support of holding in-person ceremonies. Community members suggested the district could look at options such as drive-through graduations, similar to the one Garces Memorial High School put on last week, or limiting how many individuals are allowed to attend.
Many also said that if people are allowed to walk around grocery stores with several others around them, they should be able to attend a graduation ceremony.
Trustees were presented with a binder full of several options from the district. Once it was determined they wanted to allow graduates and two guests per graduate, trustees went back and forth on whether to hold the ceremonies the week of June 15 or June 22. One argument was the longer they wait, the chances increase that not all students will be in Bakersfield, especially those going into the military. There were also concerns about high temperatures hitting Bakersfield the further ceremonies are pushed back.
Ultimately, trustees agreed it’s better holding later graduations in hopes the state moves into Newsom’s third stage of reopening and to have more time to prepare for ceremonies.
“If we do one in June, that affords the district the maximum benefits of the fullest graduation possible, safely and legally,” said Trustee Jeff Flores. “The stages are changing, so the further we push it back, the better graduation I think we can have.”
If the state moves into Stage 3, trustees said ceremonies will proceed with a limited number of guests allowed.
Graduation dates for each comprehensive and continuation school will be determined in the coming weeks. Trustee Cynthia Brakeman suggested spreading ceremonies across five days, rather than the typical three-day timeframe, to allow for more law enforcement personnel to be present at each school.
Graduation ceremonies for the district’s 18 comprehensive high schools were originally scheduled to take place May 27-29.