High school commencement plans in the Yakima Valley remain in flux.
The Yakima Health District has been guiding districts as they make plans for how to acknowledge 2,800 graduating seniors in the county given coronavirus recommendations.
While traditional ceremonies have been off the table for some time to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many districts have planned virtual ceremonies and caravan parades.
Some of these plans were outlined earlier with the expectation that some stay-home restrictions might be lifted in Yakima County. Yakima County remains in Phase 1 of a four-stage reopening plan outlined by state officials.
Yakima County has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita statewide, and cases have continued to increase. School districts have created backup plans, and some have already nixed parts of their commencement proposals.
The difference between what’s allowed under Phase 1 and Phase 2, as spelled out in a state Department of Health guidance document for graduations, is significant. Drive-through and drive-in events are recommended in Phase 2 only.
Given the importance of graduation, having an event outside the home may encourage people in high-risk groups, particularly older individuals and those with underlying health conditions or ill individuals, to attend, the document said.
With a graduating class of more than 900 seniors, the Yakima School District made tentative arrangements for a districtwide caravan through downtown Yakima beginning at 11 a.m. on June 13. Students would remain in their vehicles for the duration of the event and be greeted only by members of the school board and administrators along the way, who would hand out diploma covers.
This event will only take place if the county is in Phase 2 of reopening, said Yakima Superintendent Trevor Greene. He expects to know whether it is possible by the end of next week — one week before the event.
Greene said the back-up plan would likely be to mail diplomas and diploma covers to students. An in-person ceremony might also be arranged in months or even a year down the road, he said.
“It’s our continued hope that as the state continues to phase in the reopening status of different counties, that Yakima County does open soon enough that we can celebrate our seniors on the designated day of June 13,” Greene said. “I personally believe, given our current status as a hotbed for coronavirus, that we may be the last county opened in the state. But I certainly hope I’m incorrect.”
School-specific virtual ceremonies with speeches and announcements are expected to be ready the day of graduation for Yakima seniors.
On Tuesday, the district said it would no longer host or endorse planned school watch parties, in which graduates would enjoy a drive-in viewing of a virtual school-specific ceremony parked with their peers. Greene said it would have been too difficult to ensure graduates followed social distancing and health advice.
With discussions continuing, here are plans for some area districts:
Seniors in Granger have two possible celebration plans, which the Yakima Health District approved on Tuesday. If the county remains in Phase 1, a pre-recorded virtual graduation ceremony will be published online June 12 and seniors will individually pick up their diplomas. If the county has progressed to Phase 2 of reopening, students will join a drive-up procession where they walk through an awning at the high school football field on the morning of June 12, followed by a carside parade through town beginning at 7 p.m. Graduates would be accompanied by family members in the car and community members would be asked to remain on their porches to cheer on graduates.
Naches Valley graduates will celebrate at noon June 13. What that will look like depends on which phase of reopening the county is in on of Monday,June 8. If the county has entered Phase 2, the high school will host a drive-through graduation with specific details to come. If the county remains in Phase 1, a virtual ceremony will be held instead.
Graduates in Zillah will be honored in a virtual ceremony online, and diplomas will be distributed to graduates on June 13. The district is also proposing a community-wide car parade, subject to approval by city officials and in accordance with state health guidelines.
Celebrations in Selah will begin the evening of June 5, as staff hand-distribute graduates’ diplomas and deliver a celebratory package to their homes. Beginning at 11 a.m. June 6, a virtual ceremony honoring graduates will also be available for viewing online, including all traditional elements of a graduation in a virtual format, according to the high school’s principal.
If the county has entered Phase 2, a caravan down First Street in Selah will be held for Selah graduates beginning at 1:30 p.m. that afternoon. Previous plans for Selah students to exit their car to walk across a stage have been called off. A fireworks show will cap off festivities, beginning at 8:30 p.m. in the lower parking lot of the high school. Participants are to remain in their cars and adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Graduates in Wapato are expected to have an opportunity to hear their name called, walk across a stage to receive their diploma and be recognized for their academic accomplishments in the days leading up to graduation on June 10. The graduates’ walks will be recorded and compiled into a virtual ceremony to be released on the district’s website, www.wapatosd.org, at 7 p.m. that evening, when commencement was originally planned. Each graduate will receive a copy of the virtual ceremony.
A fireworks display will begin at Wapato High School at 9 p.m. that evening. Community members who live in and around town are asked to watch from home, while others who need to drive in to see the fireworks are asked to remain in their cars.