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Montezuma County school districts discuss graduation plans

Dolores holding Drive-in Graduation; Mancos and Cortez still in discussions

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced Monday that all K-12 schools throughout the state should remain closed through the end of the year.

But while that decision is now out of local districts’ control, school administrators still face a perplexing question: What should graduation look like during the present coronavirus pandemic?

In Montezuma County, Dolores students will take part in a Drive-in Graduation, while Mancos and Cortez administrators and staff are still floating several ideas.

“I believe graduation is a rite of passage,” said Mancos board secretary Boe Hawkins at a special meeting held through Facebook April 16. “I know that it’s special, I know it was special to me, I think it’s going to be special to them. I think we ought to do whatever we can to make sure it happens for them when it can.”

Dolores School District Re-4A

The Dolores School District will have a Drive-in Graduation at the high school football field for graduates and their families.

The ceremony will take place at its scheduled time of 6 p.m. on May 14. All 29 graduates will be spread across the entire Dolores High School football field, while their immediate family members will be able to attend in cars parked around the field, according to Superintendent Lis Richard.

For everyone else, the event will be filmed and available for viewing through a livestream.

Richard said the Montezuma County Public Health Department and Sheriff’s Office have reviewed and approved their plans – as long as social distancing is maintained, no gatherings take place, and families stay in their vehicles. Only a few school staff members will be attending in order to conduct the ceremony.

Mancos School District Re-6

The Mancos School District is still settling on final graduation plans, according to secondary Principal John Marchino. Right now, administrators are looking into alternate dates for the ceremony, but they are waiting for more direction from the state and local health department, he said.

At a special virtual meeting April 16, the Mancos school board and staff debated some different options for the commencement ceremony. Marchino told the board that students didn’t want a virtual graduation ceremony.

“They want to do something live, they want to walk across the stage, and they don’t mind moving it back,” Marchino said.

He presented a few different ideas, including figuring out a way to practice social distancing while conducting the ceremony, setting up a series of possible dates for the ceremony to happen, or holding graduation alongside Mancos Days at the end of July. They could have a ceremony through a vehicle parade, but students wanted an in-person, live event, staff said.

Board members overall liked the idea of holding a few dates open for graduation, and postponing the ceremony depending on the state of the coronavirus situation and the governor’s orders. The problem with holding the ceremony on the football field under the current regulations – even in a socially distanced way – was that it would still constitute a large gathering, board members said.

“It’s important that they get this graduation, and we have some kind of a good ceremony for them,” said board member Blake Mitchell. “But I think at least for the next two weeks we’re still in a holding pattern.”

Mancos secondary Dean Heath Showalter said that he has talked with students and felt they would be amenable to postponing graduation, as long as they had their opportunity to shine.

“We can get creative here,” he said. “The nice thing is we’re not dealing with 100 graduates, 200 graduates. We’re dealing with 30-plus graduates.”

Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1

Graduation plans are also still up in the air for Cortez students.

At its regular meeting April 21, high school staff and the Montezuma-Cortez school board virtually debated different options for Re-1 commencement.

“I don’t think it’s any question that the class of 2020 will be remembered by the COVID virus,” said Montezuma-Cortez High School Principal Eric Chandler. “So whatever we do, it’s going to be very memorable. And we definitely want to honor them.”

Nearly 150 seniors will graduate this spring, making it more difficult for Re-1 to take the same approach as some of the smaller districts, Chandler said – a car gathering (like in Dolores) would be difficult.

Other possibilities they were considering involved postponing the ceremony, holding a virtual graduation, or having some sort of “drive-by” parade graduation with banners featuring the individual seniors.

Staff were hesitant about pushing the ceremony back, since that option presents some logistical difficulties – by the time restrictions are lifted, students may not be around. According to Re-1 Superintendent Lori Haukeness, Polis recently said the earliest districts could have “large convenings” would be in the fall.

Susan Wisenbaker, an M-CHS math teacher and the senior class sponsor, said she would rather not wait until fall for the ceremony.

“A lot of our students will be off at college,” Wisenbaker said. “And so that’s not going to really honor all of them.”

Currently, teachers and administrators are setting up a planning committee, and hope they can “move quickly to come up with some sort of idea and have a chance to implement something,” Wisenbaker said.

To support the graduation ceremony or share ideas, community members can contact Wisenbaker at swisenbaker@cortez.k12.co.us.