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Altoona needs to learn lesson from graduation

Members of the Altoona Area High School class of 2019 received their diplomas on Monday, beginning their transition toward higher education, jobs, military service and the next chapter of their lives.

Moving on from high school always evokes mixed emotions, not only regarding challenges that might lie ahead, but also about saying goodbye to classmates.

Indeed, some among the 508-member class probably won’t ever cross paths again, and that’s not unique to Altoona.

But this year’s commencement triggered some troubling emotions that could have been avoided if school officials whose job it was to plan the annual send-off ceremony had readied a comparable Plan B, in the event that Plan A had to be changed.

At the same time, an error unquestionably occurred when a graduate was prohibited from wearing his U.S. Army sash to the ceremony.

As fate would have it, a Plan B was in fact determined to be necessary. However, rather than having it ready like a proverbial well-oiled machine, district officials failed significantly, creating a scenario in which some graduates ended their high school years on a sour note — one that had nothing to do with the commencement message or alma mater.

Due to a threatening weather forecast — thunderstorms were predicted — district officials issued a directive early in the day that the commencement, rather than being held at Mansion Park, would instead be moved to the Fieldhouse.

The problem was that the Fieldhouse doesn’t have a comparable seating capacity. As a result, some parents and/or other relatives, rather than being able to watch the commencement in the same room as where the ceremony was held, had to watch instead from outside the “commencement hall,” in the overflow room in the high school auditorium, where the ceremony was live-streamed.

Understandably, that was unacceptable both from the perspective of graduates whose families were affected, as well as those who had tickets but who could not be accommodated for their expected seats — although an opinion persists that more people could have been seated in the Fieldhouse than actually were admitted.

District officials not only didn’t handle the demise of Plan A effectively, but then didn’t have Plan B thought out or executed very well, although some of the comments on social media in the commencement’s aftermath were unfair.

Still, a high school graduation is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and it shouldn’t be botched, as this one clearly was.

The predicted thunderstorms didn’t materialize after all, meaning that the commencement could have been held at Mansion Park. However, since Mansion Park has metal bleachers, district officials erred on behalf of safety, and for that they shouldn’t be faulted.

It can be argued that the administrators who made the final decision about the commencement location could have delayed that decision for a few hours — initially issuing an advisory that the location might have to be changed on short notice, depending on the weather.

However, what occurred — what mistakes were made — cannot be undone.

Monday was the commencement for the class of 2019, but it also was a major learning experience for the district, which should have made contingency arrangements for a large venue such as the Jaffa Mosque, in case use of Mansion Park had to be canceled.

To their credit, Altoona’s administrators and school board members apologized for the significant snafu. We trust they will learn from the experience and handle their responsibilities better going forward.

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