Paola High School senior Ben Damron picks up his cap and gown earlier this year via a drive-thru format. Paola USD 368 officials recently decided to conduct this year’s PHS graduation ceremony using a drive-thru format due to rising COVID-19 cases.

PAOLA — A local increase in COVID-19 cases has prompted Paola USD 368 officials to move from a traditional graduation ceremony to a drive-thru graduation on Saturday, July 11, at Paola High School.

Paola Superintendent Matt Meek made the announcement Monday, June 29.

“This decision was extremely difficult to make, and we understand that many will not agree with the decision,” Meek wrote in a notice posted on the school district website. “Please understand we have gone to great lengths to try and celebrate the Class of 2020 with a traditional ceremony. However, this pandemic continues to force changes none of us like, and the change has been made with the best of intentions to keep everyone safe from risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

The school district released more specific details about the event Tuesday, June 30.

The event will be held rain or shine, and the graduation stage will be set up on the sidewalk, near Angela Drive, in front of the main entrance to Paola High School.

Participants will enter the staging area at the intersection of Hedge Lane and Panther Drive.

Students who arrive in their cap and gown will be announced, individually, and presented with their diploma on the graduation stage. Guests will have the opportunity to exit their vehicle and gather in a designated viewing area, near the stage, while their graduate is recognized.

A professional photographer will be on hand to take pictures, and one complimentary photo will be provided for each graduate who completes the online form.

After exiting the stage, students will receive a packet with their official diploma and permanent records.

Students with last names beginning A-M are scheduled from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., with check-in and lineup beginning at 7:30 a.m.

Students with last names beginning N-Z are scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with check-in and lineup beginning at 10:30 a.m.

The high school also announced Tuesday, June 30, that due to the executive order announced by Gov. Laura Kelly, masks will be required to be worn by all participants, including coaches, in any conditioning, workouts or practices that take place indoors and outdoors. Social distancing also will continue to be practiced.

Editor and Publisher Brian McCauley can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or brian.mccauley@miconews.com.

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