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Anne Arundel high school graduations canceled at Live! casino, school system says

Anne Arundel County Public Schools have abandoned plans to hold 11 high school graduation ceremonies at Live! Casino and Hotel, as the site continues to serve as a county COVID-19 vaccination clinic through June.

Superintendent George Arlotto has promised this year’s graduating class some kind of in-person experience to mark the milestone. A schedule of graduations was released in December in which 11 schools would use the event center at Live! during the week of June 7.

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In a letter to guardians Thursday, Arlotto said they were informed this week by the Anne Arundel County Health Department that the clinic would clash with graduation. Schools spokesman Bob Mosier said schools will not use Live! this year and are instead looking at graduation ceremonies held at schools.

Mosier said officials have been exploring options other than Live! during planning for graduation in case the occasion was not available. While graduations will take place, the schedule could change depending on the venue or venues selected.

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Arlotto also wrote in the letter that fewer tickets will be available than in the past due to capacity limits and social distancing requirements.

“I am letting you know about this now so that you do not make plans to bring additional family members from great distances with the expectation that those family members will witness the ceremony in person, when that may not end up being the case,” he wrote.

County schools can use the Live! venue for free thanks to a 2017 county law. The Cordish Cos., developer of the casino and hotel, proposed building a conference center with 1,400 seats at its casino, and the administration of County Executive Steve Schuh advocated a 4,000-seat center that would attract business and serve as a place for Anne Arundel students to graduate.

Graduations have often been held at venues outside the county, with nothing large enough to hold the crowd that normally attends a graduation ceremony for 500 seniors. Schools have booked venues as far away as Upper Marlboro and Towson.

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In exchange for building the bigger center and allowing free use by county entities, the County Council approved a tax-relief ordinance that gave Cordish up to $36 million in property tax forgiveness. The company will be allowed to pay $1 per year in lieu of up to $1.2 million in property taxes a year, for 30 years.

The county expected to avoid up to $72,800 in high school graduation costs, $150,000 in Anne Arundel Community College graduation costs and another $100,000 for fundraisers, public safety graduations, community meetings and other events that could be held in the center, according to the county’s budget office.

This is the second year in the 30-year agreement in which the county’s avoided costs weren’t realized because of the pandemic.

The full letter from Arlotto can be found at aacps.org/graduation2021, and updates will be posted there as well.

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