Parents can attend OHS graduation

OKEECHOBEE — Graduation was the subject on almost everyone’s mind in Okeechobee this week, especially those with a high school senior in the family. An announcement was made last week that a ceremony would be held on May 30 at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center at 9 a.m.

The original plan was that no one would be allowed in the stands to witness graduation, with parents watching live online from home. That plan brought widespread protests from parents.

At the time of the original announcement, OHS Principal Lauren Miles said, “Our available facilities would not allow us to provide two tickets for every graduate and social distance. There just are not enough seats.” Her concerns involved lines at the entrance and the bathrooms, etc.

Okeechobee County Schools Superintendent Ken Kenworthy spoke on the topic at a county commission meeting last week. He said each student will wear a mask and sanitize their hands prior to entering the arena and sitting in their assigned seats. After they receive their diplomas, they will be dismissed one row at a time.

He said they considered doing the ceremony later in the summer or doing a drive-by ceremony. They did not set out to exclude parents, he explained; but, looking at the venue, they believe social distancing applies now and will apply at any future date this summer. They looked at the capacity of the venue and decided they would not be able to allow even one parent for every graduate. He explained that he arrived at his conclusion not only by looking at 25% capacity (which in the case of the Agri-Civic Center would be 1,550 people.) He is counting walkways as social distance space. If someone is seated within 6 feet of a walkway then he believes it would not be safe for that walkway to be used, so this drastically reduces the amount of usable seating, although, at the very most, there would be 420 seniors graduating and that would mean 840 seats for guests.

Parents, on the other hand, spent the weekend desperately attempting to change the minds of the powers that be. They did not understand why, if the seniors can go for the length of the ceremony without a bathroom break, they cannot go without a bathroom break.

“We will do without a bathroom,” said Mary Bullington. If the seniors have assigned seating, assign seats to the guests. Tell them where to go, and they can go straight there and sit and not move a muscle until you tell them to get up again, said one mother.

“Dismiss them by rows when it’s over, and tell them to go straight to their cars,” said another.

“We will do anything at this point,” said one woman.

“If we all wear masks, what does it matter if we pass in the aisles? That is overreaching and ridiculous,” said one man.

“If you think about it, it is only 314 spots in that giant arena they need to mark out for us to sit. There are 314 kids graduating. If we live in the same house we can sit together. That’s 314 spots. Well, maybe a few more if the couple is divorced,” said one woman.

On Friday, May 22, Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted every single COVID-19 restriction on all youth activities including sports and summer camps, effective immediately. The county gave approval for Florida High School Rodeo Finals to be held at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center in June. Parents asked, if they could hold rodeo at that facility, why not let parents be there for graduation?

But late Tuesday, the parents got their wish.

On May 26, Okeechobee County Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy announced: “After taking the weekend to study the Governor’s Full Phase 1 document, seeking local jurisdiction support and configuring possible seating arrangements, we have devised a plan that will allow each graduate to receive two tickets.”

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