Great Falls Public Schools officials praised the work of graduating seniors who are stepping up to keep traditions alive in this time of uncertainty. Great Falls Public Schools announced two weeks ago that they planned to conduct three graduation ceremonies - all at the Four Seasons arena at Montana ExpoPark - and said that only the graduates can be physically present inside at the services. The decision was in consultation with public health officials due to concerns about the possible spread of COVID-19.
That announcement was met with some criticism, as many family members have argued that denying families the option to watch their child graduate in person was an over-reaction to the coronavirus situation, in light of the extremely small numbers of COVID-19 cases in the community.
During a special meeting Monday evening, board members voted to move the graduation ceremony outdoors at Montana ExpoPark, and GFPS superintendent Tom Moore said each student will now be able to bring two guests. Attendees will be physically distanced in the grandstands as graduates assemble on the rodeo grounds.
He said there will be strict parking and health screening at the event, with masks and social distancing encouraged.
Board members gave credit to a group of seniors, who they say led the effort on the new graduation plans. "We had written a petition that had gotten somewhere around 3100 signatures,” said Great Falls High School senior Maggie Bell.
Bell and three other students then presented their work and arguments for change to the school board last week. “We wanted to formally present the petition to the board with the facts of the other AA school districts and our own governor's orders to see how it would be feasible for us to do what other communities around the state are doing,” she said.
Moore says a survey sent to graduates and parents over the weekend showed overwhelming support for an outdoor graduation ceremony. Out of roughly 315 survey replies, Moore said 74% voted for the outdoor graduation ceremony with 17% wanting smaller graduations inside the Four Seasons Arena and the remaining votes cast for keeping plans unchanged.
Bell says she’s relieved to see a new decision that keeps some tradition in graduation after many parents and students came out against the initial decision. "Super thankful for a community that has backed us even though we're only seniors,” she said. "The amount of support from the petition through Facebook and even through the school district and the board and it shows that they really do listen especially when the community backs us."
Bell says this was a team effort with everyone from school principals to health experts wanting to help. "We were initially kind of concerned that we'd just get pushed to the wayside,” said Bell. “But then we got pulled into meetings and we were talking with the doctors around town and we really made this happen and it just couldn't make me more proud."
The Four Seasons Arena will serve as the graduation venue if severe weather moves in. If that happens, only graduating seniors will be allowed inside.
KRTV will be livestreaming the graduation ceremony; those details will be posted on our websites soon..