After two months of the Alliance School Board delaying the vote on graduation, Alliance’s class of 2020 has a graduation date set for July 11, though the format will be determined when Governor Pete Ricketts introduces new Directed Health Measures.
At their meeting on Monday night, board members discussed the topic with Superintendent Dr. Troy Unzicker, who has been surveying the class of 2020 to determine their wishes.
“I did follow up with the survey, and we didn’t have as many respondents as we did the first time,” said Unzicker. “Currently, 34 votes, or 46 percent, of the seniors that voted, still would like to wait to have a more traditional ceremony, which means 54 percent now, I think they’re getting tired of waiting, and they want to get it done. Twenty-eight voted to hold the ceremony now.
“When I put the survey together, I just estimated that they would be able to invite three to four guests,” Unzicker said. “I’m basing that off of the occupancy of our stadium and the current 25 percent rule. We still have to follow the six-foot spacing.”
Unzicker said 16 percent of the respondents voted in favor of having a virtual ceremony. Unzicker said the school has already given out several diplomas as students leave the community.
Board President Tim Kollars and Board Member Josh Freiberger suggested setting a date and protesting the Governor’s Directed Health Measures.
“I am not in favor of that because the school district would be committing a misdemeanor offense, because we would be violating the Governor’s Health Mandate,” said Unzicker.
Valerie Baker, who was present at the meeting, spoke to the board members, urging them to set a date for a ceremony.
“We want to have as traditional a ceremony as possible,” said Baker. “I’ve never been in favor of having a graduation where me and my husband are the only people there. My son has a lot of family here, he has a lot of community support. To me, I feel like the senior class has been robbed of a lot of things already. This is just my personal opinion, state basketball was such a strange ordeal, and I don’t want to do that again, because it wasn’t fun. It didn’t end well for my son. As much as he wants to graduate, he wants it to be normal.”
Kollars said he believes the board members have to do what is best for the students, and that he does not believe they have lived up to that goal.
“I’ve been here for 16 years, and we have tried to do the best for the kids that we possibly could for the entire time I’ve been on the board,” said Kollars. “No offense to the teachers or the administrators, but we have not done one good thing for these kids since the middle of March.”
Baker responded that she wants the ceremony to be as normal as it possibly can, but noted that having a traditional ceremony is not possible under the circumstances.
Board Member Tim Richey suggested having a ceremony similar to Hemingford where family members and students would stay in their vehicles until the students are called out to receive their diplomas. Board Member Edison Red Nest III offered the Sandhills Drive In as a venue to host a ceremony similar to the one Richey mentioned.
“I think for my son, what he would say, is that he has looked forward to the graduation at the stadium for years,” said Baker. “For him, it would be a graduation, but it would not be what he wants.”
Freiberger suggested that the district can not stop families from congregating on the sidewalks, and that the stadium would allow for 130 students given the restrictions.
“As long as our district and our admin are following the rules, we can’t control what mom and dad and the family does,” Freiberger said. “I just did the square footage on 130 kids, and that is exactly the size of the football field. We can’t stop people from surrounding the football stadium on public ground.”
Unzicker said the district could still be held liable since it would have created the event that drew the crowd.
“Anything we set up at this point has to be run through public health, because the health mandate requires approval for a gathering that size,” said Unzicker. “I’m going to have to spell out exactly what our ceremony is going to look like, and they’ll give the yes or no.”
Richey suggested a virtual ceremony, such as the graduation ceremony in Hemingford, would help to provide some sense of closure.
“They’re not waiting and waiting,” Richey said. “If we could have a podium where they could walk up and someone’s up there to hand them the diploma, they still get the cheering, then they don’t have to wait until August. They get that closure and they can move on. This year is kind of weird for everybody. When you look back at it, it’s kind of a neat experience. This more personal, but once you graduate, really, high school graduation is way back here. There’s going to be a whole life in front of you that’s going to be completely different. I know they didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to teachers and everyone, but the idea is to do the best we can.”
Red Nest suggested postponing the decision to determine whether updated health measures would allow for a more traditional ceremony. He also suggested keeping in contact with the Governor’s Office to influence change.
“They want a date,” Baker responded. “They want to know that their graduation is going to be July 24, or whatever day. That’s what they want to know.”
After some more discussion, Kollars shared his frustrations with those at the meeting.
“I see such fallacies from the state,” said Kollars. “If I want to riot, I can put 5,000 people in the same block, and I would contest them giving me a misdemeanor because I planned a graduation. I’m sick and tired of what we did with our kids. If we’re going to set a date, I would go with either the Fourth of July, or the Fifth of July at the latest. I think we’ve already screwed our kids over.”
The board voted unanimously, with the exception of Shana Brown, who was absent from the meeting, to set the ceremony for July 11 at 10 a.m. The decision came after determining that families may have plans set for the Fourth of July weekend that would interfere with the ceremony. The format of the ceremony will be determined as new health measures are released.