AASD eyes graduation options

Jaffa Shrine will be backup commencement location

High School commencement may be seven months out, but after last year’s fiasco, the Altoona Area School District is already planning.

Last year, commencement angered people for a couple reasons. First, not everyone with a ticket got in. Between 40 and 50 people were denied entrance to the high school Fieldhouse where the ceremony was relocated because of a thunderstorm forecast at Mansion Park.

Crowd overflow was directed to the auditorium to view the ceremony on a screen.

This year, the Jaffa Shrine will be the indoor venue if needed, administrators said Monday at the school board’s committee of the whole meeting.

The Jaffa has 3,200 seats, which is significantly more than the Fieldhouse and would hold each ticket holder for graduation.

High School Principal Andy Neely said commencement this year is set for June 2 at Mansion Park. If it rains, it will be rescheduled for the next day, he said. But if rain delays continue through the weekend, then the Jaffa would host the commencement on June 7.

“We learned a lesson about crowd overflow last year, and we are trying to avoid those entanglements this year,” Neely said.

Another issue last year was that an administrator denied a graduate, Kyle Stevenson, from wearing a sash from the U.S. military where he was to be enlisted after graduation. Longstanding school district policy prohibited regalia not issued by Altoona Area for graduation. But on Monday, Neely updated the school board on changes made to district policy concerning that issue.

In 2020, U.S. Armed Forces regalia will be allowed. Other types of regalia with graduation gowns may be granted with the administration’s review of a permission slip request.

There is one more change this year. Both males and females will wear maroon gowns, doing away with the tradition of females wearing white gowns and males wearing maroon.

The change was spurred by an apparent inequality resulting from representing the school’s maroon and white colors by male and female graduates.

White gowns required white dresses underneath and white shoes because any other color dress would stand out, Neely said. “Girls had to go out and buy dresses and shoes while males could wear anything in their closet to go with their maroon gowns,” Neely said.

In addition, while it occurs on a case by case basis, Neely said unifying the gown colors also solves problems for transgender students.

No board member present objected to any of the graduation changes. The meeting continued with a presentation on whether the district would save or lose money by outsourcing its tax office.

By assistant business manager Susan Frank’s calculations, the district stands to lose $538,818 in operational revenue if it outsources its tax collecting responsibilities to other agencies.

Board member Sharon Bream suggested more research be done on the capacity of the Blair County Tax Collection Bureau to accept the tax collection for the district. The district administration and other board members agreed to welcome the bureau to present what services they could provide the district at a later meeting.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.