The board of education held an emergency meeting the morning of July 16 to discuss whether to proceed with senior graduation on July 18, as well as whether to make it a mask-mandated event or continue to just encourage the use of masks.
This came to be as a result of Gov. Laura Kelly’s announcement on July 15 that she plans to initiate a mandate that will delay the start of schools until after Labor Day, as well as issue more stringent safety orders in a response to the fluctuating jump of COVID-19 cases in Kansas.
"After listening to the announcement, I was convinced it was quite compelling, and that there was a lot of information that was given out," said superintendent Fred Dierksen. "I could not in good faith know that the state’s medical adviser had talked about large gatherings and the fact that was a source of the problem, and that the governor is coming out with an executive order on Monday, and we’re trying to have a graduation on Saturday, which is definitely defined as a large gathering."
Dierksen said he contacted state Education Commissioner Randy Watson, among others and consulted with them on whether holding graduation was still possible. He was reassured, but not without some advisory reservations from others on such a large gathering.
Board president Lisa Killion, who works out of the United Wireless Arena, noted that social distancing procedures are in place and that graduation is a ticket-invite event only, that hand sanitizer is placed around the venue and that there is an exit plan in place for once the ceremony is over.
Not all the board members were comfortable with allowing graduation to proceed.
"I feel like we’re leaders of the community and it’s our responsibility no matter how hard it is to follow with what is best overall," said board member Pamela Preston.
She added that there will be confusion about being allowing to proceed with graduation while school is set to be delayed.
Preston said that while graduation is a limited-attendance event with not that long a duration, students and their families will more than likely have more large gatherings afterward, and that will not stop a possible spread.
When it came to vote on the motion, it passed 6-1, with Preston being the vote against.
With graduation continuing, the board proceeded to make a motion on whether to make masks mandatory. It was stated that masks will be provided at graduation and people are encouraged to take them.
The conversation left the board divided on how to enforce the requirement of masks and subsequently how to handle public agitation against masks.
When asked, Ford County Public Health Department administrator Angela Sowers reminded the board that there are no mandates that require masks.
The motion to only strongly recommend masks was passed 4-3, with Lisa Killion, Traci Rankin and Pamela Preston opposed.