Monte Alto to hold graduation indoors despite student testing positive for coronavirus

MONTE ALTO — The school district here reversed its decision to cancel high school graduation ceremonies after one of its students tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

A letter posted on social media by Monte Alto ISD Superintendent Rosie Cobarrubias last Thursday said that the commencement had been canceled.

“Please be advised that Monte Alto ISD Administration has received information that one or more of our graduating Seniors has been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. After consulting county health officials, and in accordance with current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, it has been determined that current post-exposure quarantine protocols require that the Monte Alto High School Graduation Ceremony scheduled for June 12, 2020 is required to be cancelled,” the letter stated. “We do understand the disappointment of our seniors and their families. However, we feel that the protection of the community’s public health is a greater priority.”

A little under 24 hours later, another post to social media announced that graduation had been rescheduled for this Friday.

“Participation in the ceremony is strictly voluntary,” the post stated.

Cobarrubias says the district opted to hold the graduation Friday because only one student has tested positive.

“There was only one student and that student opted not to come back, not to come that day,” she said.

According to Cobarrubias, that could change if more students test positive before Friday.

“Then we would probably cancel it again, but the second cancellation would be it,” she said.

Cobarrubias said the district consulted the county health department and Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes while determining what to do about graduation in light of the positive case. According to county spokesman Carlos Sanchez, the district consulted with Hidalgo County Health Director Eddie Olivarez.

“He made it very clear to them that he has no authority on decision-making with regard to such things as graduations. He said that the authority belongs to the school board, that they are the ones who should be making decisions on whether to hold or to cancel,” Sanchez said.

Olivarez also outlined things other districts had done locally to limit the spread of the virus at commencements, Sanchez said.

“He did suggest that several other community school districts have done an excellent job in having safe graduations. He said to call them for advice and he suggested Mission, Edinburg and McAllen as districts that did brilliant jobs in terms of holding graduations that were safe,” he said.

According to Sanchez, practices Olivarez indicated were important included limiting the number of tickets per student, encouraging social distancing and having the ceremony outdoors.

“Just about every school district I can think of has had ceremonies: Edinburg, McAllen. They’ve all done it with safe practices. All we did was advise them to follow similar practices, to follow guidance from TEA and any other recommendations that have come out from the CDC and any emergency management guidance that’s come out from the state or from the county,” Fuentes said.

According to Fuentes, he offered the district advice that has become the norm for most districts in the county.

Guideline for Friday’s graduation posted on the district’s Facebook page last week include some of those measures and many others that have been implemented by local districts: attendees will be required to wear face masks and will be limited to two guests, graduates’ temperatures will be taken, seating will be socially distanced and anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms is forbidden from attending.

Unlike many other local districts, Monte Alto opted to have its ceremony indoors at the high school gymnasium, causing some concern for some community members.

“I agree with having a graduation, you know, it’s important for the kids,” said Johnny Herrera, a father of three students in the district and a former school board member, “but I think that it would probably be a lot safer if they did it in the stadium where there’s more open air and the chances of getting it spread is less.”