OGDEN – More than 30 young people from the Ben Lomond community gave the Ogden School Board a standing ovation at the board's meeting Thursday night.
Board members had just voted to suspend a board policy that prevents schools from "making special acknowledgments at graduation ceremonies" of students who have died.
This policy suspension will allow Ben Lomond to memorialize two members of the their class, Kamron Johnson and Hunter Jones, at the school's graduation Tuesday. Johnson died in a shooting in January. According to reporting from KUTV, Jones died from an overdose.
"I was best friends with Hunter Jones in this life," said Raquel Juarez, a senior at Ben Lomond, speaking to the board. "Seeing his empty chair at graduation will not only be sad but it would help me cope ... I think this policy does let us truly recognize, and in a sense, it bottles in our emotions."
Matthew Richey, student body president at Ben Lomond, and Hyrum Barnes, a senior, have collected signatures from students and teachers supporting their request to memorialize their classmates. They also spoke to the board.
The board policy that prohibits memorials at graduations is from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention — "it's directly taken from their documents, word for word," said Stephanie Christensen, the district's counseling specialist. "That being said, it is not necessarily the only policy out there."
Concerns about suicide prevention and about how memorials might affect the emotions of other graduates and guests dominated the board's discussion.
Board members were generally supportive of a moment of silence, mentioning the deceased students' names and awarding an honorary diploma to the families of both students, at graduation celebrations or privately, depending on the wishes of the families.
Honorary diplomas could not be awarded without a suspension of the policy, which requires that deceased students complete graduation requirements in order to receive an honorary diploma.
There was greater concern about the students' proposal to have two empty seats and graduation with a cap, gown, and an item of remembrance.
An empty seat could be "a pretty big trigger for somebody," said board member Jennifer Zundel. "Having lost a son myself, everybody grieves differently."
Christensen said that the moment of silence is a traditional choice and can strike a balance among many concerns.
The policy suspension will allow the principal to determine the details of how the memorial will be handled, taking into account concerns shared by board members and district staff at the meeting, said Jer Bates, the district's director of communications.
After reviewing a selection from the the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Toolkit for Schools, board members thought that seniors could also honor their former classmates during Ben Lomond's senior candlelight tradition, a separate activity from graduation.
The board will revisit the policy at a later point and potentially make revisions. They will also consider the students' request to create a special committee that will evaluate future memorial requests.