Fireworks to commemorate the class of 2020 will be held in West Valley and Selah Friday and Saturday, respectively.
The events are part of a series of non-traditional commencements in Yakima County beginning this weekend.
West Valley will be have a virtual graduation ceremony, as well as lighting fireworks beginning at 9:30 p.m. Friday. Community members are asked to view the show from home, as it will be big and loud enough to enjoy from a distance. School district officials asked that community members tend to their pets as needed.
An in-person drive-up ceremony in West Valley was called off due to insurance coverage limitations and the fact Yakima County is still under Phase 1 coronavirus restrictions. Under Phase 1, people should not be gathering or taking part in social activities with people from outside their households.
Mabton and Toppenish school districts had commemoration plans Friday evening, although updated plans for Phase 1 have not been released.
Also Friday, Selah graduates can expect a visit from school staff who will be distributing care packages and diplomas to doorsteps, as well as taking photos of graduates in their cap and gown.
A pre-recorded Selah video commencement will be released at 11 a.m. Saturday, featuring speeches and musical numbers.
This will be followed by a graduate cruise down First Street in Selah in the afternoon. Community members are asked not to gather along the street. At 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Selah will kick off a fireworks show at the high school.
In Sunnyside, the second-largest district in the county, a ceremony with speeches by the valedictorian, salutatorian and class speaker will be broadcast on www.jeffplace.com beginning at 6 p.m. Friday. While the 450 seniors won’t be at the ceremony in person, each graduate’s name will be announced during the broadcast.
Some parents, graduates and community members have expressed frustration over the cancellation of in-person celebrations in Yakima County.
Some have compared the events to trips to Walmart. In response, Yakima Health District Chief Operating Officer Ryan Ibach said groceries are an essential need.
He said the health district has helped districts plan based on state health guidelines for commencements, but had not told any districts they cannot hold certain ceremonies. The state Department of Health doesn't recommend in-person, drive-in or drive-through commencement ceremonies until Phase 2 and above.
In response to complaints that baseball games and drive-in movie events have taken place in the county while in-person commencements are not approved, Ibach said the health district did not approve of any of those events. The Yakima Health District also doesn't approve of unofficial, parent-led graduation events.
“We're working with them, trying to educate them to let them know this isn't a Phase 1 activity,” he said of those hosting the gatherings. “We do have a (COVID-19) problem here in the county, we’re trying to address it, and this is counterproductive to where we want to head.”
Yakima County hasn't been able to move to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan because of high coronavirus case numbers and hospitalizations. As of Monday, Yakima County’s rate of coronavirus cases was 517 per 100,000 over the past two weeks, well above the 25 per 100,000 needed to reopen. The county has the highest rate of cases per capita in the state.
Hospitalizations in Yakima are growing, even among younger demographics, according to local medical experts.