Douglas County High School backtracks, moves graduation from Air Force Academy after worries over undocumented students

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Jenny Brundin/CPR News
Douglas County High School moved its graduation after pushback that having it at the Air Force Academy would’ve shut out some undocumented students and their families.

Updated at 2:47 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8, 2024

After facing criticism that some seniors might not be able to attend their graduation ceremony because of security requirements at the Air Force Academy, Douglas County High School is changing the location of the ceremony.

In a letter to staff and families Wednesday, principal Anthony Kappas announced the new location is EchoPark Stadium in Parker.

“Unfortunately, there has been increased scrutiny by some in our community, as well as members of the media, regarding the location of our graduation ceremony,” Kappas wrote. “There are concerns that this spotlight on our graduation could result in additional stress and traffic delays that we do not want for our seniors and their families on this special day. We want to ensure all family members, friends and loved ones are able to attend this milestone celebration and can arrive on time.”

As a military installation, the Air Force Academy’s policies require government-issued identification to enter. For non-U.S. citizens, it requires special clearance using a passport. That meant some students without U.S. passports and students who are undocumented could not attend the ceremony. Some students and staff members had warned school administrators a month ago about the barriers, but plans for the Academy celebration continued.

A student interviewed by CPR News, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, said there were students and family members who said they would not be attending because they either didn’t have a passport or were too frightened to hand documents to the U.S. military.

“Not one kid should be left out of their own graduation, not one family member and the school just bulldozed right over the decision-making,” the student said.

A month before the May 22 ceremony, an Academy representative was invited to a mandatory meeting for families of graduates to explain the access requirements to attend the ceremony. Entering the base requires a military ID, passport or driver’s license. For non-U.S. citizens, it requires special clearance using a passport that can take up to 72 hours to vet.

In addition, family members with prior felonies wanting to attend the ceremony would not be allowed on the base, according to Academy regulations.

“I have a friend whose uncle went to jail, I'm pretty sure he has an ID but he wouldn't be allowed on base because of his criminal past,” the Douglas County High School student told CPR News. “So, even people who are from America themselves will be robbed of the opportunity to see their loved one at graduation.” 

The school said it decided to host the ceremony at the Air Force Academy because of inclement weather in previous years. Other high schools in Douglas County with ceremonies on that day include nearby Castle View High School at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison.

“The change in location allows us to ensure all who wish to attend can do so and celebrate with our Huskies,” Kappas wrote. 

“To the Class of 2024, do not let this take away from your big day! Change is part of life and you are resilient. This will be an incredible day where we celebrate you and all of your hard work. You will always be a Huskie!”

The student said they were pleased that the school changed venues so all graduates and their families could attend. 

“I am very grateful and appreciative of the fact the location was changed, however, I’m not sure the intentions behind the location change was pure,” the student said. “If they were genuinely concerned with the issue, they would've changed the location months ago.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the incorrect date that the principal sent the letter. The letter was sent on Wednesday.