Thunder Mountain High School seniors celebrate their graduation on Sunday, May 26, 2019. The class of 2020 was forced to skip graduation ceremonies due to COVID-19 restrictions. Discussions are underway to allow the class of 2021 an opportunity to participate in commencement in accordance with CBJ's mitigation strategies. (Michael Penn /Juneau Empire File)

Plans coming together for COVID-conscious graduation, prom

Plans coming together for COVID-style graduation, prom

Forget coordinating tuxedos and prom dresses. Students at Thunder Mountain High School may soon be searching for masks that complement prom attire and arranging socially distanced photoshoots for posterity.

After a school year like no other, school officials are making plans for Juneau’s high school students to end the year with some of the cherished rituals that often mark the passing of the school year and the arrival of the summer.

Commencement exercises for both high schools and a socially distanced prom for TMHS are possibilities under consideration. Students at Juneau-Douglas Kalé High School voted not to hold a prom this year.

“I hope we can finish off the year on a positive note and be able to do some of the fun things these seniors missed out on due to COVID,” said TMHS principal Steve Morrow in an email to the Empire late last week. “My fingers are crossed!”

Morrow said that spring sports are underway and that plans are coming together for a music concert, senior awards, and scholarship presentations.

“We are attempting to have all of the events we possibly can within the limitations of what we are allowed to do,” he said.

Prom plans

Students at TMHS have submitted a request to hold a prom in the school gym. In the proposal, students outlined COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

“If approved, mitigation will be in place that include masking, social distancing, and limited participation,” Morrow said.

He said that students hoping for prom will learn more this week. The final decision will depend on factors such as the overall COVID-19 caseload in Juneau and the resolution of the small cluster of cases identified at Thunder Mountain last week.

CBJ introduces new vaccine strategy

Graduation ceremonies

After the class of 2020 missed out on traditional commencement ceremonies, school officials are reviewing plans to allow seniors to experience graduation ceremonies this spring.

In a meeting last week, school officials said that they are working to find ways to accommodate students and families within City and Borough of Juneau’s gathering guidelines.

To adhere to city guidelines, graduation ceremonies are likely to take place outside. With the move outside, commencement times may need to be adjusted.

School officials are likely to have more guidance on city rules this week as city Assembly members review what mitigation strategies to maintain as citywide vaccination rates grow. City Assembly members are expected to vote on revised mitigation measures, including the number of people who can safely gather outside, Monday night.

How will climbing vaccine rates affect the local mask mandate, traveler testing

Expanded eligibility for commencement participation

During a special meeting Saturday afternoon, school board members unanimously approved a measure to allow students who were enrolled in the Juneau School District before the suspension of in-person learning to participate in commencement ceremonies, even if they left the district for a distance-delivery or home-school program to complete their studies.

While eligible to walk across the graduation stage, these students will not receive a Juneau School District diploma nor honors recognition.

This one-year policy variance applies to any student who participated in a recognized home school program listed in the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s online directory.

Board member Emil Mackey, who introduced the measure, said that parents had asked for the option to participate in graduation ceremonies even if the pandemic-related pause on in-person learning meant that a student had completed senior year outside of Juneau’s schools.

When introducing the policy exception, he said the move shows the community values education and recognizes the effect the pandemic has had on students and families.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at or 907-308-4891.

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