Several parents addressed the Gering School Board during its meeting on Monday evening, and in a rare move, the board responded directly creating a discussion centered on graduation.
Immediately before the public comment period began, board president B.J. Peters said he felt the frustration of seniors and their parents.
“Our hope was to preserve that face-to-face graduation experience,” he said.
In early April, GPS and Scottsbluff Public Schools announced alternative graduation plans in a joint release. A ceremony for Gering’s seniors was tentatively planned for June 21 at Five Rocks Amphitheater, with a backup date of July 18.
In the announcement, the districts stated that if the dates would need to be moved to July, everyone would be notified by June 1. Now as the end of the month nears, things are looking uncertain.
“We don’t have a lot of answers,” said Peters. “The governor has a heavier and bigger hammer than we do.”
Superintendent Bob Hastings also spoke prior to public comments, saying he hoped for new guidelines relating to graduations to be released later this week. The district doesn’t want to make any decisions before seeing those, he said.
At this point, though, he’s not even sure a ceremony would be able to take place in July.
“If we did it outside at Five Rocks, we thought it might give us a better chance of trying to host something,” he said, adding, “It’s obvious that June won’t happen. I think it’s highly unlikely that July would happen.”
Hastings said current regulations only allow for two types of ceremonies: drive-through and drive-in. A drive-through would involve cars lining up and driving through somewhere, he said. When they get to a stage, they would be able to get out and pick up their diploma.
A similar process would take place with the Drive-in option, with cars parking as they would for a drive-in movie. Speeches and the presentations could be broadcast, and students could pick up their diplomas one at a time.
Some smaller area schools have had drive-in options, including Bayard. Hastings said that with the size of the senior class, it would be difficult to find a way for everyone to be able to see.
“In all of those instances, we would have a professional photographer there,” he said.
The photos would be provided to families at no cost. The ceremony would also be broadcast live.
“Those are our two options today,” said Hastings. “Hopefully the Governor will come out with something that gives us more options later this week … We’re open to trying anything we can, as long as it’s approved by the powers that be.”
Zac Karpf was the first person to speak during the public comment period, acknowledging that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. He recently started contacting other senior parents to get their thoughts on a ceremony after attending one of the district’s elementary school parades.
“It’s really obvious that we’re not going to have a regular graduation,” he said, later adding, “Let’s get something done in June. To keep delaying ... it’s just not healthy for these kids.”
He said parents seemed to favor the drive-in option, because then the students all get the chance to experience it together.
“I appreciate his enthusiasm, his passion to preserve this experience for these seniors,” said Peters. “In their lives right now, it’s probably the most important thing.”
Crystal Smith said her daughter learned that, as of now, the plan is for her to report to campus for college this fall.
“We’re going to run into more and more of that,” she said, urging the board to plan a June event.
Chris Culek pointed out that baseball is being allowed, but players must sit six feet apart on the bleachers.
“They’re going to be allowed to play baseball with parents in the outfield six feet apart,” Culek said. “If we can play baseball, we should be able to find a way to have graduation for these kids.”
Hastings told Culek that his logic was spot on.
“The rules we’re operating under are not logical,” Hastings said.
Peters said he hoped by the end of this week they would have more answers.
During the meeting, the board took action on several items including the retention of legal counsel to assist in administering a personnel hearing requested by Brandy Johnson. The district declined to comment on the item because it was a personnel matter. Johnson had not returned a request for comment by press time.
The board also:
Approved an Affidavit of Closure of Attendance Centers required by the Nebraska Department of Education.
— Voted to extend the employment and compensation of non-exempt educational support employees who are serving the district on an on-call basis because of COVID-19.
— Voted to enter an Interlocal Cooperative Agreement with Educational Service Unit #13 to establish and participate in a Day Treatment Program.
— Voted to approve Taher as the district’s Food Service Management Company
— Voted to approve the 2020-2021 student handbook.