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Helena schools hope for in-person outdoor graduation this summer
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Helena schools hope for in-person outdoor graduation this summer

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Helena High School Graduation 2019

A scene from the Helena High School graduation ceremony, June 1, 2019 at Nelson Stadium.

Helena Public Schools Superintendent Tyler Ream told the board of trustees on Tuesday that the administration is hoping to hold in-person outdoor graduation ceremonies this summer.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it's highly unlikely that this year's ceremonies will look the same as they have in the past. Ream told the board officials are considering holding ceremonies in Nelson Stadium at Carroll College. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony for Project for Alternative Learning could be held at Helena Middle School but those for Helena High and Capital High would need to be postponed. 

Ream said the traditional PAL graduation at the Myrna Loy is just not possible given the need for social distancing.

The details on the prospective ceremonies are up in the air for the time being. Depending on how the COVID-19 situation progresses in Lewis and Clark County, there are options for both 500 participant and 1,000 participant ceremonies, with 150 and 300 graduates, respectively. Regardless of what decision the administration ultimately makes, graduates will likely be limited to two tickets for family members.

Some details are more firm, such as the need for a no-contact ceremony. Graduates will not be shaking hands as they cross the stage in 2020. Additionally, all graduates and participants will be required to wear masks and will be screened for symptoms prior to the event. All graduates and family members will be spaced 9 to 15 feet apart on the football field.

There will also be a no-gathering protocol in place and the facility will be extensively cleaned between ceremonies. Digital graduation practice times will be announced sometime this month. 

The times and dates for the ceremonies are yet to be determined. Ream laid out options for both two and four separate ceremonies for HHS and CHS. This will largely depend on what size ceremony is held. The ceremonies will either all be held on June 6, or will be held on June 5 for HHS and June 6 for CHS.

Trustee Sarah Sullivan asked the student representatives on the board how the students felt about the possibility of these ceremonies. HHS representative Hannah Muszkiewicz said that regardless of the ceremony it wouldn't be the same for students. She said they are well aware that there is nothing that can be done about it, but students unfortunately can't shake that feeling of disappointment.

Muszkiewicz said the district is unfortunately "making the best of a bad situation."

Ream was adamant that none of these plans are set in stone at the moment and are subject to change. Given the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, graduation plans today could be completely out the window next week, according to Ream.

A previous version of this story attributed a quote to the wrong person. Helena High School's school board representative Hannah Muszkiewicz said the school district is "making the best of a bad situation."

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