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Billings to hold large graduations May 24 at MetraPark

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Posted at 3:00 PM, May 06, 2020

All three Billings public schools will hold graduation on May 24 inside First Interstate Bank arena at MetraPark, Superintendent Greg Upham announced Wednesday.

The first ceremony will be at 9 a.m. for Billings Skyview, followed by Billings Senior at 2 p.m. and Billings West at 7 p.m.

"In a little bit of soul searching, I sat down at my desk and I said i need to have experts," Upham said. "And so I placed a call to Mr. Jim Duncan and I said 'Jim, I need some help.'"

All participants will be required to wear face masks, and Duncan of Billings Clinic said the hospital will donate masks in school colors.

"We are going to be able to donate Montana masks, the masks you've been hearing about, that were originally 3D printed and now injection molded," Duncan said. "We'll have a mask for every graduate and their two guests that come with them to the ceremony."

All graduates and families will be required to observe six feet social distancing and submit to temperature checks before the ceremony, said John Felton of RiverStone Health.

Each graduate is allowed to bring two guests with reserved tickets, Felton said. Out-of-state guests must quarantine for 14 days in advance to follow Gov. Steve Bullock's order, Felton said.

"Contact tracing is a critical part of managing any pandemic," Felton said. "And so we're going to ask people to keep track of where they sit. Keep your tickets. Make sure you know where you were. I'm going to ask that for the parents out there who are holding graduation parties, please keep a list of who comes."

A maximum of 1,200 people will be allowed during each session, with time allotted in between for cleaning. No band will play, and the program will be shortened, according to Upham.

"We'll reduce the program to shortest time possible but still have a class act," Uphan said.

The school district, RiverStone Health, MetraPark and Billings Clinic made the joint announcement at the Lincoln Center Wednesday afternoon.

"What more can we do for our class of 2020 than make sure their families are able to participate," said Scott Ellner, Billings Clinic CEO.

"You really do see how community pulls together," said Duncan.

"Mitigate the risks to graduates and their families and the community in a way that balances with the importance of the social events and the rights of passage," Felton said.

"I'm thankful for our community and I'm thankful for our graduates," Upham said.

On Monday, Upham told Billings school trustees that he was exploring ways to hold a socially distanced graduation at MetraPark.

Upham had previously proposed a small series of ceremonies of up to 10 students at a time, with no family allowed. That plan was met with severe backlash from parents.

The school board has already voted to continue online-only classes for the rest of the year as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

Watch the full news conference below.

Billings graduation press conference