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Augusta School District Superintendant releases statement for graduating seniors, some parents share disagreement with petition

KSN Digital Extra

AUGUSTA, Kan. (KSNW) – Graduation is a memorable experience for students around the country. This year, many schools across the nation have made changes to this celebration due to the COVID-19 crisis. Augusta High School is no exception.

“Students and parents from our advisory group have come up with excellent ideas to personalize this special date for our seniors,” said Augusta School District Superintendent Matt Ward.

Gov. Laura Kelly’s new phased-in plan to open up the state gives the opportunity for larger public gatherings come June. Gov. Kelly says she will evaluate the state’s progress and, if appropriate, issue a new executive order moving the statewide baseline to Phase Out. This will occur no sooner than June 1, 2020.

An Augusta High School Mom says administrators should take these changes into consideration when organizing the students’ graduation.

”So now that things have changed I believe their plans should change as well,” said Barbara Altier.

Right now, the USD 402 school district is planning to hold its May 17 celebration partially in person and partially online. Some Augusta parents are saying their children are not getting the graduation they deserve.

“They’ve already missed out on so much,” said Barbara Altier. “So if there’s one little last thing that we could do for them, then we should do as much as we could to make that possible – especially when it’s a graduation.”

Altier says the administration should consider pushing back the graduation to a later date.

“Why aren’t we using every resource we have, why aren’t we doing everything that we can for this to be possible,” said Altier.

A petition with more than 300 signatures has been made urging administrators to change the graduation date. The superintendent says they have worked with the county’s health department to help them achieve a safe graduation ceremony.

“Throughout the pandemic, the district has worked with our county’s health department, including planning for a safe graduation ceremony. During the process, we have also been in contact with Butler Community College and other Butler County schools on what they are doing for graduation. We are all having to adjust and find ways to make this both safe and extra special given the circumstance,” said Ward.

Altier’s son, John Bourget, and his friend, Gabe Kocher, are both graduating from high school this year. They say they’ve already missed out on many school activities like sports, prom, their senior prank, and more.

“Me and Gabe both play tennis in the spring, so we were really really bummed out that we couldn’t finish our senior season,” said Bourget.

“There’s a chance that we could have a graduation, and they’re not willing to take that,” said Kocher. “Most schools around us, in Wichita, El Dorado Windfield, Much bigger schools– like we’re half of the size of these schools, and they’re still waiting to do their graduations.”

The students say they’ve tried collaborating with staff and administrators in coming up with new ideas to celebrate their graduation in-person but continue to get rejected.

”We voiced our concerns, and they haven’t really been heard by staff and administration, and we don’t really know what else to do,” said Bourget.

”They’ve completely shutdown every single suggestion and opinion that we had, they wouldn’t even listen to it. They just don’t want to hear us out. They thought that this would be good for us, but they are doing it without thinking about us,” said  Kocher.

Augusta School District USD 402 Superintendent released the following statement:

While managing the many, and ongoing, challenges that this pandemic has presented, Augusta public schools have remained committed to following the guidance from KDHE and the Butler County Health Department in order to keep safety our primary goal during a historic worldwide health pandemic.

Sadly, the pandemic has had a significant impact on the education system across the country and has changed the way schools approach education and activities, and our seniors have experienced loss as a part of it. Without a doubt, it has been difficult for our students (and students across the country) as many of the traditional elements of school have had to be modified or cancelled due to a pandemic that was out of anyone’s control.

Throughout the pandemic, the district has worked with our county’s health department, including planning for a safe graduation ceremony. During the process, we have also been in contact with Butler Community College and other Butler County schools on what they are doing for graduation. We are all having to adjust and find ways to make this both safe and extra special given the circumstances.

Graduation is a capstone experience for our seniors and it is important to us that it is as special as
possible- even during a worldwide health pandemic. Although all possibilities were considered, a July graduation ceremony presented some real challenges. For one, our county health department, whose guidance we have been following throughout this pandemic, stated that it was very unlikely that a traditional July graduation could safely occur.

The district also wanted to advocate for every senior. We have seniors who are going to be entering the workforce or going into the military after graduation and like every other senior they deserve to be recognized along with their peers. To ignore their desire to take part in their own graduation ceremony prior to them serving our country or entering the workforce never seemed appropriate.
I am proud to say that many of our parents and seniors have taken on the challenge to make the most of this historic, yet challenging, graduation year. Students and parents from our advisory group have come up with excellent ideas to personalize this special date for our seniors. Members of the advisory group suggested our city businesses and churches find ways to celebrate our seniors as a community. Senior students in the advisory group led the charge to have their peers submit individual cap-tossing videos to be added to the end of the virtual portion of the ceremony. They have also created a hashtag to follow along with the virtual portion of the ceremony. Parents have also organized a “senior parade” led by police officers from the Augusta Department of Public Safety. Seniors will drive around the lake together prior to lining up in a caravan at the high school to walk across the stage (in person) in their cap and gowns while getting a free professional photo taken as they collect their diploma. Although this will not be the traditional approach to graduation, our seniors are forging ahead, creating a new path, and making the best out of a challenging time in our community, and the world.

Matt Ward
Superintendent USD 402, Augusta

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