Add the cancellation of in-person 8th Grade graduation to the list of traditional rites of passage ripped from students by the Blue Valley School District board of education administration this year. The district is allowing high school students to graduate in person, but 8th-graders and their families are being denied this important milestone.
“We understand that some families are disappointed with the modifications we had to make to events this year,” said Kaci Brutto, Blue Valley School District communications director. “Our middle school principals thoughtfully explored alternate formats and options for a consistent, district-wide eighth-grade celebration experience.”
District officials told Kaety Bowers that COVID-mitigation strategies required limiting occupancy for events to 50% capacity. But that’s not the case according to the Johnson County Health Department; there are no requirements, just suggestions.
Bowers also discovered inconsistencies in how the district applies its policies. She did the math on using the Blue Valley North High School gym; at full capacity, the gym holds 1906 people.
Her son’s class at Overland Trail Middle School includes about 210 eighth graders. If each graduate invited two parents, the gym would be at less than 50% capacity for an hour-long ceremony. District officials said no. Blue Valley North seniors are using the gym for senior day on the day of 8th grade graduation. The senior class event at BVN will include about 1,170 people with 390 BVN graduates and their families.
Parents get the runaround on holding an outdoor ceremony
She also asked about holding a ceremony in the Overland Trail Middle School. The answer? Still no, based on space limitations in the gym.
“So Blue Valley North can go over 50% capacity, but Overland Trail Middle School can’t,” Bowers said.
She searched for solutions. She inquired about hosting graduation outside on the football field.
“I was told we didn’t have a loudspeaker,” Bowers said.
Bowers offered to find and pay for loudspeakers. She even offered to provide sound for every middle school in the school district, when officials said that wouldn’t be fair to the eighth-graders at other district middle schools. A few days later, she attended a middle school track meet only to discover the use of a loudspeaker at the track and field event in the district.
Bowers sent pictures of the speakers to district officials and the official response to in-person 8th grade graduation remained ‘no’.
“Ultimately, the priority has always been to create a meaningful recognition of the middle school experience while also allowing students to be recognized with their entire class, and that has continued to be our focus this year,” Brutto said.
Brutto said principals planned proactively with PTO/PTA leaders to make event modifications. Bowers is pleased with how her son’s principal handled the events of the school year. However, she’s disappointed in the district administration.
“The district had the opportunity to explore a lot of different options. And they weren’t explored, even though we’ve had a long time to plan for them,” she said.