The county’s public high schools are planning graduation ceremonies the first weekend in June, but locations have not been finalized.
Preston Bowers, high school facilitator and AVID district director, told members of the Board of Education on Monday that the district is hoping to move back to ECU’s Minges Coliseum this year with ceremonies June 4-5. A decision could be announced as early as next week.
“That’s our first choice; we really want to get back,” Bowers said. “We know that we can host a quality event because we’ve done it before at ECU many, many years.”
The county’s public high schools held graduation ceremonies in Minges for more than two decades before moving them outside in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Last June, the school district hosted 11 outdoor graduation events over eight days to allow required distancing for an estimated 1,700 graduates.
An alternative plan would allow high schools to host events on their campuses again this year. But instead of taking several days for ceremonies, the six traditional public high school graduations would be held simultaneously on the morning of June 5.
For either option, Bowers said, graduates will be limited to two guests each due to public gathering restrictions surrounding COVID-19.
“That number may change,” he said. “But for right now, based on what we have to follow, we’re looking at two tickets.
“Will it look the same this year as it has in the past? No,” Bowers said. “We have to follow the safety guidelines in place.”
Additional safety guidelines for the ceremonies include masks and social distancing for both graduates and guests.
Bowers said that if graduates had to be seated 6 feet apart, the floor space in the center of Minges would only accommodate about 160 students. He said the district is discussing with county health officials the option of seating graduates about 3 feet apart, which is the latest requirement in schools.
“That helps us, especially when D.H. Conley has 400 graduates,” Bowers said. “There’s a possibility that we may have to seat some of the graduates in the upper bowl in a designated area, which reduces the area where we can bring in guests.”
District 4 representatives Don Rhodes questioned whether or not the district would permit schools to host graduations if they preferred to have ceremonies on their school campuses.
District 6 representative Worth Forbes said he would favor that option.
“Last year, it worked out well,” he said. “Many of the principals said that it was one of the best graduations they’d had. I don’t see a problem with it myself.”
But District 2 representative Amy Cole said it could be problematic to allow different venues. District 3 representative James Tripp agreed that there should be consistency.
District 7 representative Caroline Doherty reminded the board that the ceremonies were moved to Minges, in part, because of sudden storms that had disrupted previous outdoor graduations.
“There were people dropping babies over chain-link fences and falling all over each other,” she said, referring to storms of June 4, 1993. “There has to be a clear, cogent plan in place for tornado because it has happened, and God help us if somebody gets hurt.”
The draft proposal presented Monday indicates that if weather became an issue for schools hosting outdoor graduations, ceremonies would have to be moved inside, with students graduating in groups of 10 to 20.
If graduations are held in Minges, the tentative schedule would be to have Pitt County Schools Early College High School graduate the morning of June 4, followed by J.H. Rose and D.H. Conley. June 5 ceremonies would begin with South Central, followed by Ayden-Grifton, North Pitt and Farmville Central.
Bowers said no specific times will be set until school officials can determine how much time will be needed for cleaning between groups.
All ceremonies are scheduled to be recorded and available for livestream viewing for people who cannot attend.