GFPS releases graduation plans

Great Falls Public Schools has released the plan for 2020 graduation ceremonies.

Last week, GFPS officials met with city and county officials from health, law enforcement, fire and Expo Park departments to discuss the plans.

Officials considered the size of the Pacific Steel and Recycling Arena, number of graduating students and health and safety protocols for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was collectively decided at that time, based on the fundamental concern for the health and safety related to COVID-19 of our students, their families and the community at large, the graduation ceremonies would proceed as scheduled with graduates only in attendance. The events will be live-streamed by local media outlets so the parents, families, friends and community can view and celebrate the ceremonies safely, minimizing potential exposure,” according to a GFPS release that went out shortly before the May 11 board meeting.
GFPS, Central Catholic modifying graduations due to COVID-19

During the May 11 GFPS board meeting, a group of five students presented a petition of 3,000 signatures and asked the board to consider allowing each graduate to bring up to two guests to the graduation ceremonies, with health and safety protocols in place.

The group of local officials discussed several options, including those suggested by the students and determined that those had health and safety risks or concerns “that none of us could support,” according to the release.
GFPS to continue remote learning for remainder of school year

High school principals met with their student leadership to gather input on alternative graduation options and the students “asked us if there was any way possible to bring them together one last time with their classmates to celebrate their accomplishments and to see each other, all in the same place. That is being done,” according to the GFPS release.

Superintendent Tom Moore said that high school principals and administrators met with students, including many of those who presented during the May 11 meeting, and asked what they wanted.

GFPS officials shared those ideas with health officials, as well as suggestions from hundreds of emails, calls, social media comments, Moore said during the May 11 meeting.

“This was not made unilaterally,” Moore said of the group of officials that included a team of 15 people.

Moore said the student priority that rose to the top was to be together one more time.

GFPS officials operated on the thought that “if we have to make decisions, let’s try to get that to happen for them,” Moore said.

Health officials said they couldn’t exceed 270 people at the Pacific Steel and Recycling Arena.

Moore said administrators will meet with the student group on May 12.

The school board will not vote on graduation plans as it’s an administrative decision, Moore said.

District officials said that communities have different variables to consider and “what may work in one location may not work in another,” according to the district release. “The local weather patterns, unpredictability and inability to have safe and healthy back up plans ruled out the outdoor graduations in Great Falls. The size of the Four Seasons Arena was discussed as well. Splitting the graduations into three sub-groups to keep the capacity within acceptable allowances was discussed, but did not meet the students’ request to bring their entire class together one more time.”

Cascade County Commissioner and Board of Health member Jane Weber said, “although very different than traditional graduations, this plan allows the entire student body to celebrate their achievements together and their parents to memorialize the milestone with a special tribute to tradition. This creative solution will assure everyone remains safe.”

Since families can’t assemble in one place on graduation day, each high school has outlined plans to allow for students and their families, up to five members, to come back to their high schools one last time, have photo opportunities, see staff, walk the campus and “bring closure to the school year officials on their campuses,” according to the GFPS release.

“This year’s graduates have a year to remember. Graduation will indeed be different for our seniors, but their memories will include being together one last time as they bid farewell to the Class of 2020. Memories will include keeping the community safe as families and graduates enjoy very special celebrations at their high school prior to graduation,” GFPS Board Chair Jan Cahill said in a release.

Here is a brief outline of what is planned at each school:

Paris Education Center – Principal Drew Uecker

“The bell ringing has always been a favorite tradition of seniors graduating from Paris. On May 28, you will have a yard sign with your picture and name placed on the boulevard of 25th street. These will be in place early that morning. You will have the opportunity to pick up your yard sign after 4 p.m. that day. You will also receive your two roses at this time, not at graduation. The bell will be in the parking lot for you to ring. In place of your advisor and myself speaking, you will receive a letter to read and keep. If you choose to ring, you must maintain social distancing, sanitize before and after ringing (we will have a station available) and use the plastic glove that we supply. This again is an opportunity to do something new and unique! If we have rain, we will have signs in the gym for you to pick up, as well as the bell for ringing. You may ring from 4 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. that day.”

Call Ami at 268-6604 to arrange to pick up your cap and gown.

Great Falls High School – Principal Geoffry Habel

  • Great Falls High Pre-Graduation Ceremony 5-8 p.m. May 29 GFHS
  • Walk the halls of GFH to the senior stairs
  • Student in cap and gown
  • Graduate and immediate family up to 5 are welcome, but the event not open to the public
  • CDC physical distancing guidelines enforced
  • Bring a face covering (mask/scarf/face covering) required for every person while in the building
  • On senior stairs
    • Name of graduate announced
    • Name of people accompanying them announced
    • Photos taken by GFH Yearbook Advisor
    • Many teachers present to cheer on graduate
  • Assigned times to be announced and more details forthcoming to parents

C.M. Russell High School – Principal Kerry Parsons

Graduation Walk May 29

  • Staff make signs to post on the walk or hold- cheer on grads!
  • Music playing the Pomp and Circumstance as they walk
  • Cap and Tassel being made by Chris Evans on the skull
    • 1-1:30 p.m. seniors and their parent/family groups (no more than 5): report to senior parking lot, take temp and get masks
    • 1:30 p.m. – Start walk of CMR Campus in front of school in small family groups spaced 12 feet apart
    • Ends at the CMR Skull – Take family photo
    • After picture walk through main parking lot to return to your car
    • 3 p.m. – Graduation Walk Complete
      *Times could be changed based upon weather closer to graduation.(Plan B- walk and photos inside building)

“We are all grieving the loss of certain opportunities to gather and celebrate things that we have traditionally been able to do. This class of graduating seniors has lost the final quarter of their senior year due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and that has been unfortunate and terribly disappointing. The Class of 2020 has persevered through this unprecedented situation and we all need to celebrate their accomplishments and wish them well in their future endeavors.”

Scheduled graduation dates and times:

  • C.M. Russell High – 6:30 p.m. May 29 Pacific Steele and Recycling Arena
  • Paris Gibson Education Center Graduates – 10:30 a.m.May 30 Pacific Steel and Recycling Arena
  • Great Falls High – 2 p.m. May 30 Pacific Steele and Recycling Arena

All Graduations will be live-streamed on:
KRTV- https://www.krtv.com/live
KFBB- https://montanarightnow.com also on https://swxrightnow.com
Star Radio-Wolf 104.9 and STAR 101.7
Cherry Creek Radio- KLFM 92.9 live broadcast and streaming at https://www.kool929fm.com