N.C school board votes for in-person graduation amid virus

Image of Union County Board of Education members via Union County Board of Education website

MONROE — A school board in North Carolina has voted to hold an in-person graduation ceremony for all its high schools that would be a violation of the state’s coronavirus safety orders.

The Union County Public Schools Board decided in a 5-4 vote Thursday to hold the ceremonies in an outdoor stadium where students would maintain social distancing, news outlets reported. But the ceremonies would still violate Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order limiting mass gatherings to 25 people in outdoor spaces.

“Obviously we have a terrible lack of leadership from the governor of our state,” Gary Sides, a school board member who issued the proposal, said. “We’re trying to fumble through and not deprive these kids of one of the most important events of their life.”

The board’s vote comes after students and parents held a protest outside Union County Public Schools Superintendent Andrew Houlihan’s home demanding an in-person ceremony.

“You just want the best for your kid,” April Good, a parent of a student in the school district, told WCNC-TV. “It’s not about being entitled to anything, it’s just about wanting something good for them.”

Others who voted against the motion pushed back against the decision.

“I’m not willing to sit in jail to host a traditional graduation,” Joseph Morreale, a school board member, told WBTV.

A violation of the state order is a misdemeanor, and can be published by nearly two months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The fine would be about $11,000 if all the 11 high schools in the school district go ahead with the ceremonies, Union County Public Schools Board Chairperson Melissa Merrell said.

Another board member, Christina Helms, regarded the governor’s order as “ridiculous,” but noted following the guidelines will be “a good example for our students that you might not like the law but you need to obey it.”

Alternative graduation proposals included holding multiple ceremonies that fit under the restrictions in the governor’s order and moving the graduation ceremony to South Carolina, where larger groups are permitted. Specific arrangements, including dates for the graduation ceremonies, will be discussed when the school board meets again on Tuesday.