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State should allow large grad ceremonies

Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday that she does not expect Oregon to return to extreme risk restrictions again, as more residents continue to get vaccinated every week. But even if Jackson County were to be sent back to extreme between now and early June, state health officials should allow local high schools to plan outdoor, socially distanced commencement ceremonies that can accommodate graduates and their families.

Local school superintendents are meeting with Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen to make their case.

Under extreme risk rules adopted by the Oregon Education Department, outdoor graduation ceremonies are limited to a maximum of 100 people. That’s simply not workable even for smaller districts such as Phoenix-Talent. For Medford’s high schools, which will graduate 900 students this year, it’s completely out of the question.

Under high-risk rules, Spiegelberg Stadium could hold 15% of its capacity. That’s 1,500 people. Running two ceremonies for each high school would allow students and their families to share the accomplishments of graduating seniors, who have endured a senior year unlike any other.

Medford had been planning for that since the county was moved into the high risk category, but a one-week drop into extreme caused concern. All 15 extreme-risk counties will move into the less restrictive category Friday, but despite Brown’s prediction, there is no guarantee they will remain there until graduation.

Still, it should be possible to conduct something approaching normal commencement ceremonies if they are held outdoors, with strict distancing rules in place.

Jackson County’s legislative delegation — Sen. Jeff Golden and Reps. Pam Marsh and Kim Wallan — have indicated their support for accommodating school districts’ plans and helped set up today’s meeting.

Superintendents from the county’s districts will make their case to Allen, arguing that the same precautions they have implemented in returning to in-person instruction under the guidance of the state’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners plan can be applied to graduation ceremonies. Allen should grant their request.

Parents and graduating seniors, all of whom are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, can do their part by getting shots if they have not already. There is time between now and June for vaccinations to take effect, adding to the safety factor.

Congratulations to all graduates, and best wishes for a successful future.