The proposed map for the Los Lunas Schools reverse parade at Daniel Fernandez Memorial Park allow for each student to stand 9 feet apart from each other as family members drive through the park to celebrate their graduation.
Screen shot from Marcos Castillo’s presentation

LOS LUNAS—Members from various agencies across the county gathered last Wednesday for a special meeting held by Los Lunas Schools to discuss a potential alternative graduation celebration for the graduating seniors — a reverse parade at Daniel Fernandez Memorial Park.

The district proposed holding the celebrations for Valencia and Los Lunas high schools on the same day that would’ve been their graduation date, Friday, May 22, although that is subject to change depending on the governor’s orders. Tentatively, Valencia High School’s graduation would be in the morning, and Los Lunas High School’s would be in the evening.

Century High School faculty expressed wishes to have their own parade on their campus since their graduating class has a much smaller number of students.

Acting Superintendent Walt Gibson said Deputy Superintendent Brian Baca along with Assistant Superintendent Susan Chavez and Chief Financial Officer Claire Cieremans led the discussion for an alternative graduation celebration for the past three weeks with the village of Los Lunas Parks and Recreation Division, the Los Lunas Police Department and the Los Lunas Fire Department, as well as the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office and the Valencia County Fire Department.

“By having a reverse parade, I mean students would be the ones standing in place while families and well-wishers would be coming to greet them,” Gibson said. “The village fire and police officials have experience with celebrations at Daniel Fernandez Park. It’s easily accessible from (N.M.) 314; we could control traffic in and out, and we think we can effectively social-distance the kids in the graduating classes.”

Los Lunas Parks and Recreation Supervisor Marcos Castillo brought up the idea, which was inspired by a high school in Carlsbad that had proposed doing the same thing.

Castillo said one of the reasons why they opted out of doing a normal parade was because obtaining permits for the event through the New Mexico Department of Transportation would have been very difficult and unlikely that it would have been approved. Other potential issues included creating traffic on Main Street and large groups of people violating social distancing guidelines.

Castillo said parents would receive a map and information for the school’s graduation time and more detailed instructions.

“Each one of these spots represents a student, and represents each student being 9 feet apart inside the park,” Castillo said of the map. “The traffic will be coming in from N.M. 314 going southbound, turn into the park and make a loop of the park to be able to see the students.”

The students will be situated in alphabetical order and their names will be searchable from the interactive map so the families know where to look for them.

The family members in their vehicles would exit the park and continue south on N.M. 314, while the Los Lunas Police Department directs traffic.

“Uploading the student names to the web page, which parents will have access to, will be able to tell the students exactly which part of the park they need to go to so they’re not wandering around and will help them keep their social distance,” Castillo said.

The students would be directed to park at Enchantment Little League and walk into the park by student resource officers.

Once the event is over, whoever is managing the students inside the park will be doing a controlled egress of the students to where only a few of the students at a time would be leaving to avoid forming large crowds.

“No community vehicles would be allowed inside the park until that time frame happens, otherwise people would be backed up on N.M. 314,” Castillo said. “We’ve entertained the idea of having the community members park at the Transportation Center and to be led into the park by a law enforcement vehicle.”

During Wednesday evening’s meeting, parents all shared the same sentiment during public comment portion of the agenda, that they would prefer an in-person graduation at some point.

Alicia Armijo spoke during the Zoom conference call on behalf of her daughter, Marissa, who is one of the seniors in the school district.

“They’ve grown up together and they’ve shared all these memories together. The future is defined by different milestones, things that you look forward to in the bleakest moments,” Armijo said. “These graduates were looking forward to reaching that graduation milestone all together.

“An in-person graduation will allow them to transition from high school to their next future together as they’ve always done. My daughter and I would really appreciate you guys to consider an in-person graduation.”

Los Lunas Board of Education President Bryan Smith expressed similar sentiments in regards to holding an in-person graduation ceremony.

“I just want to make sure that particular plan for having a graduation at a later date with students on a stage taking pictures is not out of the question,” Smith said. “Obviously, we don’t control any of the restrictions as far as the health department goes, but I just want to make sure that if something develops over the next two or three weeks that it still is an option that we at least consider.”

Gibson said he believes the social distancing restrictions will be lifted gradually over time. He said even if public distancing restrictions allowed for a larger group of people in a room by May 22, it still wouldn’t be enough to include as many people as the reverse parade would allow for.

“I think the trade off here is, do we give every family two tickets so Mom and Dad can come but nobody else, or do we let as many people as possible celebrate the class of 2020 at Daniel Fernandez Park?” Gibson said.

Gibson said when he arrived as acting superintendent, it became clear the three high schools within the school district would not have a ceremony at Dreamstyle Arena, also known as The Pit, or at the respective high schools with a large audience.

“What we’re doing tonight is presenting that framework for a plan to the board of education and community members in the hopes that this will, for the time being, substitute as a formal graduation ceremony,” Gibson said.

The school district sent out a survey to graduating seniors in late April asking them to choose between holding a virtual graduation, waiting until social distancing regulations were relaxed to have the ceremony at The Pit or having an in-person graduation at a later date. The most votes went to having a virtual graduation ceremony.

“It became obvious shortly thereafter that a lot of people in the community felt that we weren’t doing enough to celebrate the class of 2020,” Gibson said. “We clearly understood that and we began discussions with a number of entities in the community about what we could do to substitute for a graduation on-site or at The Pit.”

The approval of the event and the date and times will depend on what the governor instructs.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea. Both principals have met with student leaders from their classes,” Gibson said. “The kids are enthusiastic about it and we’re trying to decide how we can put special touches into this day so that they’ll remember it.”

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Anna Padilla, News-Bulletin Staff Writer