George Boland

The class of 2020 in Idaho Falls School District 91 will be using modern technology in a nostalgic setting for graduation ceremonies this spring.

During Wednesday evening's District 91 Board of Trustees work session held via teleconference, board members unanimously approved the proposal to have graduation ceremonies for all District 91 high schools take place at Motor Vu Drive In theater on North Yellowstone Highway. The idea was introduced by Idaho Falls High School principal Robert Devine, who shared the details with board members during the conference call.

Devine said his wife recently saw a Facebook post about utilizing a drive in theater for a graduation ceremony in another state. For District 91's ceremonies, Volstar Productions, Inc. will provide the video and audio, the Idaho Falls Police Department will provide traffic control and manage entry and exit, Preston-based Acme Discount Fireworks will provide a fireworks display following each school's graduation and Bell Photography will be present to photograph each ceremony to create a memory book they will have available for online purchase.

Idaho Falls senior class president Evelyn Shull, who was also present on the conference call, said she and fellow students felt that a completely virtual graduation would be inadequate. Upon hearing Devine's idea, she was 'ecstatic.'

"It's been hard on me having to miss out on things I've been looking forward to the past four years," Shull said during the teleconference. "I think this will be more memorable and more exciting than a traditional graduation would be."

Devine said that there are 460 spots available for vehicles at the drive in. Graduation tickets will be provided in a bag from Jostens with students' cap, gown, tassel and diploma cover. Tickets will be shown through the window of each vehicle entering the drive in and the driver will then be provided with a graduation program.

Due to the outdoor setting, each graduation ceremony would not start until approximately 9:30 p.m. to allow for adequate darkness to view the screen and 'Pomp and Circumstance' will play for approximately 30 minutes. In place of walking across the stage, a cap and gown photo of each graduate will appear on the screen for approximately six seconds and the graduate's name will be read aloud by the school counselor. To close the ceremony, Acme Discount Fireworks will have a fireworks display featuring the colors of the school. The next day, graduates can return their caps and gowns to the curbside of their school and receive their actual diploma in an envelope.

Devine added that there will be eight portable toilets provided to the theater with hand sanitizer stations, sinks and signs reminding people to adhere to social distancing when they use those facilities. A livestream of each graduation will also be available for those who are unable to attend, although Devine said the provider of the livestream is to be determined. Idaho Falls School District 91 could provide it, he added.

Volunteer work will be necessary to prepare the drive in for the ceremonies, and Devine said he estimates it will require no more than 12 to 15 people all adhering to social distancing.

District 91 Communications and Community Engagement Director Margaret Wimborne said further details about the graduation plans will be emailed to parents. Wimborne added that the Idaho Falls School District 91 Education Foundation is covering the costs of these graduation ceremonies for each high school.

"We're happy to come forward and cover the expenses so schools don't have to worry about it," she said during the teleconference.

The board also unanimously approved to extend the soft closure of District 91 schools through May 29, a new biology curriculum and resource adoption and a new COVID-19 inspired board policy entitled Section 308.3 regarding employees paid with federal funds and unexpected or extraordinary closures.

District 91 Superintendent George Boland said satisfying the Idaho State Board of Education's criteria for re-opening the district's schools before the end of the school year would be difficult.

"We would struggle to meet those within the time frame we have," Boland said in the teleconference.

Also discussed during the work session were challenges and benefits of remote learning as provided to board members by teachers. District 91 assistant superintendent Kelly Coughenour said the most commonly reported response from teachers and principals is that they miss seeing their students in person, and he commended the work and communication between administration, teachers and parents.

"The communication has been amazing," Coughenour said on the teleconference. "It doesn't take long to get from one place to another."

The board's next scheduled meeting, also to take place via teleconference, is at 7 p.m. May 13.

Marlowe Hereford is a sports reporter for the Post Register. Contact her at 542-6772 and find her on Twitter: @mwhereford.

Marlowe Hereford has worked for the Post Register since August 2011. She has covered 11 different high school sports, Olympic sports and recreational sports.