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Bismarck, Mandan announce in-person graduation plans

Bismarck, Mandan announce in-person graduation plans

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Mike Bitz

Mike Bitz, superintendent of Mandan Public Schools

There will be in-person high school graduation ceremonies in both Bismarck and Mandan this spring, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bismarck School Board on Thursday voted to hold an in-person ceremony at the MDU Resources Community Bowl on May 24. There will be a maximum of two guests allowed per senior, with administrators working on solutions to make more guests a possibility.

Mandan Public Schools on Thursday announced it will continue with plans to hold an in-person graduation ceremony for this year's senior class at the Starion Sports Complex during the weekend of May 22-24. There will be a limit of four guests per graduate, and the ceremony will be modified to limit direct person-to-person contact.

“It’d be nice if we were able to do it, you know, with no restrictions, but that’s not the world we live in,” Mandan Superintendent Mike Bitz said. 

The news comes after Gov. Doug Burgum amended his executive order closing school facilities to allow for high school graduation ceremonies to be held on school property, with limitations.

The state issued guidance on Wednesday that local school boards and administrators can use when deciding whether to hold a ceremony, and if so, how. There are guidelines for several options: a virtual or livestream ceremony, a drive-in event, a parade, multiple ceremonies with small portions of classes, a ceremony at a large outdoor field, and a ceremony at a large auditorium or other venue.

Officials intend to hold Mandan's graduation ceremony at the originally scheduled time of 2 p.m. on May 24. In case of bad weather, they could move the ceremony to 11 a.m. on May 23 or 6:30 p.m. on May 22. A final decision on the date and time will be made the week of ceremony.

The district is working on provisions to livestream and record the event for those who can't attend. It also will provide photographers free of charge to take pictures of graduates as they receive their diplomas.

Prior to Burgum's Wednesday announcement, Bitz said Mandan would try to adhere to the will of students and parents to hold an in-person graduation ceremony.

“We did survey our seniors and their parents about alternatives -- everything from a drive-in, to a virtual graduation, to coming back later this summer -- and our parents and seniors were very clear: 82% of them want to get together and have graduation. And if we can’t do it on the 24th, they want to come back at a date later this summer," Bitz said on Tuesday.

The Bismarck School Board at a special meeting on Monday directed school administrators to research possible graduation ceremony formats, including a drive-in option and in-person options.

The board at a special meeting on Thursday heard the options for graduation and voted to tentatively hold the ceremony for the three large high schools  -- Bismarck High, Century and Legacy -- on May 24 at the Community Bowl on the Bismarck State College campus. The times have tentatively been set at noon for Century, 4 p.m. for Bismarck High and 8 p.m. for Legacy. 

The date might shift to May 23 or May 25 depending on the weather forecast. A maximum of two guests per senior is allowed, with administrators working to find solutions to make up to four guests a possibility. Any senior who does not feel comfortable with an in-person ceremony will be allowed to opt out. The ceremony will be livestreamed for those who cannot attend.

If the ceremony is canceled due to weather or a large virus outbreak in the area prior to graduation, alternative dates in June and July will provide as a backup. 

Graduations for South Central High School and the Adult Learning Center will take place as a small group ceremony at a later date.

Most of the details for Bismarck's ceremonies have yet to be worked out. With the school board's approval, administrators will work with local health organizations and parents to iron out the specifics.

Private schools

Two private high schools in Bismarck announced changes to their graduation ceremonies.

Shiloh Christian School Superintendent Todd Benson said the school decided to move its graduation ceremony outside onto the football field to allow for physical distancing during the ceremony.

Each of Shiloh’s 38 graduating seniors will be allowed to bring up to five guests to the ceremony. All attendees are required to wear masks, and none can have traveled from out of state to attend.

The ceremony will be livestreamed for those who cannot attend. Groups of guests will be assigned to a section of bleachers that are at least 6 feet apart in all directions. Graduates will be assigned seats on the football field that will be 6 feet apart. Diplomas will be sanitized and organized alphabetically on a table on the field, where students will get their diplomas after their names are called.

Light of Christ Catholic Schools President Gerald Vetter announced that St. Mary's Central High School will have an in-person graduation at 3:30 p.m. on May 24 at the high school. He did not yet specify whether the ceremony will be indoors or outdoors. The ceremony will be livestreamed for guests who cannot attend in-person, and graduates who are not comfortable with an in-person graduation can opt out without repercussion.

More detailed protocols and expectations for St. Mary’s Central High School’s graduation ceremony will be sent to families in the coming days, Vetter said.

Reach Bilal Suleiman at 701-250-8261 or Bilal.Suleiman@bismarcktribune.com

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