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Some schools already setting outdoor graduations again

By Mike Genet

With continued uncertainty about what pandemic-related restrictions might still be in place by May, some local school districts have decided to conduct graduation ceremonies how they did last July.

The Blue Springs School District announced this week that it again plans to have graduations outdoors at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, on May 22.

Blue Springs High School is set for 9 a.m. and Blue Springs South at 11 a.m. Attendance will again be limited, with masks required. Each graduate will receive an allotment of tickets. 

That Saturday looks to be a busy one at the home of the Sporting KC soccer team, as the three Lee’s Summit School District high schools again plan to have graduations there that afternoon.

Fort Osage Schools plans to make graduation decisions at next week’s board meeting, said spokesperson Stephanie Smith, and Independence School District spokesperson Jana Corrie said administrators have been discussing graduation plans but have not made any decisions. 

Grain Valley High School, which last year held graduation at the gymnasium at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, where local capacity restrictions at the time were more relaxed than Jackson County, has not yet announced its graduation plans for this year.

Until the pandemic, Blue Springs and Blue Springs South high schools had for many years conducted graduation ceremonies at Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. The venue allowed for plenty of family seating in the stands, with graduating classes of 450-plus seated on the gymnasium floor. 

The Independence and Lee’s Summit school districts, along with Fort Osage and Grain Valley, had used the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence. The 5,800-seat venue allowed room for family and friends of all graduates, even with graduation classes sometimes approaching 400 to 500, and ISD would conduct all three high school graduations on a Saturday. However, the Auditorium has been closed to the public throughout the pandemic.

Children’s Mercy Park quickly became the venue of choice last July for many area schools last year as the pandemic forced districts to first change graduation dates and then venues, given continued restrictions for indoor events. The open-air venue, which in normal circumstances seats 18,000 for soccer games, could seat about 2,500 spread out in the stands, with the graduates spread out on seats on the playing surface, and stadium personnel were able to make sudden plans and handle logistics for several commencements.

For seniors at the Blue Springs School District’s alternative Valley View High School, graduation is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. May 18 at Blue Springs High School’s Peve Stadium. Attendance will not be limited, but masks and social distancing will be required. If inclement weather is forecast, the ceremony will be inside the high school and attendance will be limited.