Kern High School District graduations begin despite concerns from public health

Posted at 4:50 PM, Jun 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-22 21:12:32-04

The Kern County Public Health department speaking out with concerns about high school graduation ceremonies taking place this week. 23ABC's Bayan Wang spoke with public health officials who are concerned about the large number of participants that will be attending the ceremonies.

The Kern High School District has implemented several safety modifications for the ceremonies, including requiring masks and social distancing. But Director of Public Health Matt Constantine still advises against large gatherings.

"Our advice is to do everything possible to keep those gatherings down, whether postpone them, cancel them for this point, or do them virtually as we do a lot of our meetings now. There are other ways to do it."

Kern County Health Department Director Matt Constantine talks about high school graduations

It's a concern Constantine has had since the KHSD Board of Trustees unanimously voted to allow graduation ceremonies for the schools in the district.

"It's important to remember that the governor's stay at home order still remains and that community gatherings should not occur," added Constantine.

Many people have voiced their opinions about in-person graduation ceremonies on the 23ABC Facebook page.

Rachel Reyes commented: "Don't take it away from the kids. They deserve to graduate. I'm excited to see my first-born graduate."

Blanca West countered: "I think children would prefer losing their graduation ceremony versus losing a parent or grandparent."

And Robert Joe Flores Junior said: "Leave them alone. My daughter is excited and we all will be practicing social distancing, mask-wearing, and following all rules."

Constantine hasn't expressed his concerns directly to KHSD, saying "decisions should be made at a school board level and we encourage compliance with the state."

"The high shcool distict and other elected boards have been trying to find ways to honor the children and their work while still not presenting a risk to the community," added Constantine.

According to KHSD, there will be several safety measures in place. Students are only allowed to bring two guests, eight feet of distancing is required between each family group, and all participants are required to wear masks.

But Constantine said there are still health risks involved.

"Our advice is of course to do everything possible to protect our community. It's a time to celebrate, and although we might be able to separate during a ceremony, people are anxious to get together and hug each other."

According to KHSD, 18 schools will be having graduation ceremonies this week.

23ABC reached out to the District Board of Trustee members for comment on the safety concerns raised by Constantine, but they have not responded.

In a 23ABC Facebook Poll that asked if the school district should be holding in-person graduations, more than 1,000 people have voted so far and 65 percent have said "Yes" and 35 percent have said "No."