BRENTWOOD -- In the wake of graduation ceremonies held during blistering heat that put some people in the hospital, Liberty Union High School District officials say they will discuss how to avoid a repetition in the future.

Water at Freedom and Heritage high schools was in short supply Saturday, when temperatures at the Oakley and Brentwood campuses were in the 90s by the time the events began at 9:30 a.m.

"We felt terrible," said school board president Joanne Byer, who had to leave the stage herself shortly after the ceremony began because she feared she would collapse.

"You can't have a graduation where people are dropping like flies. In the future, we have to do something."

District Trustee Ray Valverde said he and his colleagues will discuss the possibility of holding the two schools' graduations in the evening, as Brentwood's Liberty High School does.

Firefighters and ambulance personnel ultimately treated 25 individuals who were overcome by the heat, eight at Freedom High and 17 more at Heritage High, according to East Contra Costa Fire District Chief Hugh Henderson.

A dozen were taken by ambulance to two hospitals, while the rest were treated on-site in air-conditioned rooms that emergency workers turned into triage centers.

Parents complained that water wasn't readily available to the seniors, who were covered in long gowns on football fields where the heat radiating from the artificial turf only intensified their discomfort.


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During Heritage High School's ceremony, senior Tori Simon emptied the frozen bottle of water she'd brought, unzipped her gown and tried to fan herself with a 3-by-5 index card.

"I was doing whatever I could to stay cool," she said, adding that immediately after the ceremony, she went home and took an ice-cold shower.

Her family also was squirming on the bleachers' metal seats, which Simon's stepfather, Dave Wynn, said were already uncomfortably warm when he and his wife arrived.

Before the ceremony began, all 15 members in his group decided to seek shade under the bleachers, where dozens of others also had gathered.

"We were both drenched in sweat," Wynn said.

Even then, they stayed only long enough to quaff $15 worth of bottled water and watch Simon cross the stage.

Heritage High Principal Larry Oshodi did not return a call seeking comment.

At Freedom High, school officials confiscated water from students as they waited for the event to start.

Teens never have been allowed to take objects with them onto the field lest some giddy graduates disrupt the solemnity of the event by throwing beach balls, tossing leis, sounding air horns -- or splashing others with water, Principal Erik Faulkner said.

"It interrupts the dignity of the ceremony and others' right to have their moment in the sun," he said.

But with an increasingly larger enrollment -- there were 539 students in the class of 2013 -- commencement exercises are taking longer, Faulkner said, noting that students were on the field for about 2½ hours.

Although employees handed out dozens of bottles of water to students they noticed were in distress, Faulkner readily acknowledged that in hindsight he would have ensured that those assigned to monitor the rows of seniors had enough water for everyone.

"If I could go back, I would have had ice water underneath each of the teachers' chairs," Faulkner said.

Shayla Hoag certainly could have used a gulp.

Dripping with sweat, she began to feel lightheaded during the ceremony, but when she opened her gown to cool down, Hoag said she was told to zip it back up because students were expected to look the part.

"It was horrible," she said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.