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Pinellas seniors will get Grad Nite at Busch Gardens after all

A special Pinellas-only night has been arranged for high school students at the theme park on May 7.
Pinellas County seniors will get Busch Gardens to themselves on May 7 for a special Grad Nite arranged for them.
Pinellas County seniors will get Busch Gardens to themselves on May 7 for a special Grad Nite arranged for them. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Mar. 31
Updated Mar. 31

After initially turning down the idea of letting Pinellas County high school seniors go to Busch Gardens for Grad Nite, the school system has agreed to a plan that will let the students have the theme park to themselves for a night in May.

It will cost $20 more than the April dates the Tampa theme park has set up for other seniors, but for $90, Pinellas County Grad Nite will take over the park from 7 p.m. to midnight on May 7.

The after-hours event follows CDC guidelines such as social distancing, wearing masks with temperature screenings and hand sanitizer stations around the park.

Busch Gardens is bringing back Grad Nite on April 16 and 23. The catch is that tickets have to be purchased through the schools, and many schools started the year forbidding off-site events.

Pasco County passed on letting its seniors go to Grad Nite, and Hillsborough is leaving it up to the principals.

Related: Some Tampa Bay high school seniors won't get a Grad Nite party

Last week, the Pinellas County school district said the answer was a hard no, and prom is canceled, too. But on Wednesday the school district announced it had worked out an arrangement with the theme park.

After the initial announcement, parents appealed to the schools to reconsider, said Isabel Mascareñas, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County School Board, so principals got together to try to make it work.

“They really wanted to say yes,” Mascareñas said, “In such a tough year, it was important to find a way for students to create memories of their senior year.”

Clearwater High School’s principal, Keith Mastorides, made a trip to the theme park to check out how they handle the crowds and CDC guidelines of face masks and distancing and said he felt comfortable sending students there.

“We got into education because we love kids,” Mastorides said. Having witnessed the theme park visitors wearing masks and being separated in the lines by signs and plastic shields, “it was not much different than what’s actually going on in school.”

He reported his findings back to other Pinellas principals and they quickly approved Grad Nite for seniors.

“We were excited to give them some good news,” Mastorides said.

Principal Mike Bohnet of Osceola Fundamental High School said in an announcement Tuesday that, “this spacious, open-air event offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity for Pinellas County seniors to celebrate safely with enhanced health and safety measures throughout the park.”

The $90 ticket includes park entrance, a meal voucher and transportation. Tickets will be on sale Monday through April 23 at the schools.