Mitchell school board approves virtual graduation plans

Recording process likely to begin this week, officials say


Graduation at Mitchell High School is officially going virtual for the class of 2020.

The Mitchell Board of Education Monday gave approval to a plan to hold the Mitchell High School graduation commencement in a virtual format this year as opposed to a live event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board gave approval to the plan at its April 27 regular meeting, which was held by video and telephone conference.

The board approved the plan after considering another option brought up at the meeting by Joe Graves, superintendent for the Mitchell School District, who said a district parent had contacted him about a potential option for a live commencement ceremony that could be held at the former Starlite Drive-In Theater in Mitchell.

“We had not considered it because we did not know it was possible,” Graves said about the option.


Graves said under that proposal, students would come to the theater in their vehicles and maintain social distancing. The students would be recognized in a matter similar to what would occur during the planned virtual commencement ceremony.

While the board was intrigued by the idea, a number of logistical and technological unknowns made the original virtual commencement proposal more appealing. A ceremony at the theater would require having the event after dark, and having all the students together, even if they are separated by sitting in their own vehicles, may be tempted to approach or mingle with their fellow students after having been apart from each other for so long.

Other concerns involved planning lead time and unpredictable weather, which could force postponement or outright cancellation of the event entirely.

The live option is intriguing, but in the end a virtual commencement would allow the greatest degree of control and safety for students and other participants, Mitchell High School Principal Joe Childs said.

“There are pros and cons to both of them,” Childs said. “I don’t think one is easier than the other, but with the virtual option we have a great deal more control over the safety of students, their spacing and who they’re exposed to.”

The board originally entertained a motion to present the theater option to student leadership for consideration, but Matt Christiansen, who originally made the motion, rescinded it in favor of a new one approving and moving forward with the virtual ceremony option.

Kevin Kenkel, who seconded the original motion, agreed with the decision.

“I just think (a virtual ceremony) seems to be a safer option to go with and it’s our responsibility to look out for the safety, security and health or our students,” Kenkel said.


The board, which extended thanks to the parent for offering the suggestion and theater owner Jeff Logan for considering such a plan, approved the virtual commencement option by unanimous vote.

The board indicated they would be open to having the finished virtual commencement video presented at the theater as another option, as well, should administration and students wish to pursue that possibility.

Under the virtual commencement ceremony plan, seniors, of which there are about 160 expected to graduate this year, would reserve a block of time, perhaps a three-minute window sometime over a two-day period, where they would participate in the virtual commencement sometime before the original May 17 date. The students would arrive at the Mitchell High School Performing Arts Center parking lot and wait in their vehicles until they are ushered into the building by a school employee.

The student would enter the building during their assigned time and a photographer would take their picture in their graduation attire. The student would then proceed to the stage in an empty auditorium where they will be announced by Childs, walk across the stage as per tradition, and receive their diploma. The process would then be repeated for the next scheduled student.

Each student would be recorded receiving their diploma, with the footage later edited together to resemble a live graduation ceremony, with a goal of maintaining social distancing throughout.

Childs said the recording of graduating seniors would likely begin this week, and recording of the invocation, administration and board member remarks and other commencement staples would take place in the near future. The video would be made available to the public at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 17, the time and date of the original graduation commencement ceremony.


The board approved the following personnel moves:


  • The new certified hires of McKenzie Mertens, 5th grade teacher at Longfellow Elementary, $43,250; Danielle Schoenfeld, 0.5 FTE Begindergarten at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary and 0.5 FTE Title I at Gertie Belle Rogers, $43,250; Kari O’Connor, math teacher at Mitchell High School, $43,250; Amanda Sonne-Chada, 6th grade teacher at Mitchell Middle School, $54,678; Kaitlyn Huska, social studies teacher at Mitchell High School, $43,250 and Caitlyn Way, freshman volleyball coach, $3,535. All new hires are effective for the 2020-21 school year.

  • The hire of Tressa Wede, 5th grade teacher at L.B. Williams Elementary, $55,973. The hire is effective for the 2020-21 school year.

  • The resignations of Kaitlin Todd, 6th grade teacher at Mitchell Middle School, and Lisa Switzer, kitchen manager at L.B. Williams Elementary. Both resignations are effective at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

  • The new Mitchell Technical Institute hires of Jesse Royston, wi-fi broadband instructor, $58,362 and Brandon Puetz, electrical construction and maintenance instructor, $54,189. Both hires are effective in August 2020.

Other business

Also Monday night, the board:

  • Reviewed approved three sections of board policies in the 400, 500 and 600 sections. Sections of the board policy book are reviewed yearly so that the entire book is reviewed every four years.

  • Renewed the district participation for the upcoming school year for workers’ compensation through the Association School Board of South Dakota Protective Trust.

  • Renewed the participation agreement for the upcoming school year for the ASBSD Protective Trust health insurance program.

  • Observed a moment of silence for Amyah Harley-Lyn Barna, a kindergartner at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, who died last week.

The next meeting of the Mitchell Board of Education is scheduled to be held at 5 p.m. Monday, May 11. That meeting is also expected to be held by teleconference.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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