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Carroll County schools plan for seniors to walk stage, receive diplomas; petitioning for outdoor graduations

Carroll County Public Schools (CCPS) staff waited as long as they could before announcing a plan for graduations, in order to see what restrictions would be in place.

Wednesday night, May 20, staff unveiled a plan that would let families schedule a time to come into the school building one at a time so seniors can walk the stage and receive a diploma from their principal, accompanied by four family members. The Board of Education voted unanimously to start on this path to give school personnel the time they need to get it going.

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But they also voted unanimously to have the board’s lawyer, Edmund O’Meally, send a letter Thursday morning to the Governor’s Office of legal counsel for interpretive guidance on the executive order. They hope to see if they might be able to hold some outdoor gathering of more than 10 people.

On Tuesday, the state delegation from District Five sent a letter to the Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer asking him to work with the school system to hold outdoor graduation exercises. In reply to the lawmakers’ letter, Singer said that the school system is not able to go against the governor’s executive order.

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He responded in an email to the Times, "The current order restricts gatherings to 10 or fewer people, and graduations are not listed as exempt from this restriction.”

O’Meally said both sides raised fair questions, and without taking one side or the other he could reach out to the state for interpretation.

Board Vice President Marsha Herbert made the motion, saying they owed it to students to try one last time. O’Meally said he would include information such as the number of students in each class and the capacity of the stadiums.

Singer didn’t discourage them from sending the letter, but feared that they might get a quick “no” from Annapolis. He said a similar question had already been asked and answered.

The plan as of Wednesday night is to move forward with the CCPS staff plan, and pivot on the chance that the state responds favorably to the letter. The alternative ceremonies could start as soon as June 1, and the school system is eager to have some way to honor seniors before they move on to other commitments such as the military.

Multiple board members brought up the Naval Academy commissioning ceremony in Annapolis where midshipmen gathered in smaller groups of 200 while seated at a distance from one another in a ceremony closed to the public.

Superintendent Steve Lockard noted that while CCPS students are wonderful, there is a difference in discipline between them and a group of commissioned military officers. But he also did not oppose the Board’s vote to reach out to the state for guidance.

Board members also brought up the number of customers crowding grocery stores and the recent choice to allow religious services of less than 250 people outdoors.

Graduation plans

At the schools, students and parents would arrive at the school parking lot at a scheduled time slot. The doors will be open so families can enter the school’s auditorium without touching surfaces and school staff will serve as ushers. Inside the auditorium, an announcer will read the student’s name and a videographer will film each student as they cross the stage and pick up their diploma, while greeting their principal. Families can watch and take photos.

After they move through the auditorium, there will be another space where families can take more photos together. Especially for large schools, this process will take several days to get every group through the building one at a time. At the end, a video editor will mesh together speeches from the valedictorian and others with footage of each graduate crossing the stage.

Students began receiving their caps and gowns this week during closeout procedures where they picked up belongings left at school.

This ceremony will be optional for each student and their family.

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Herbert asked if there was a way for teachers to be in the audience to see students walk, but Chief of Schools Cindy McCabe said they had to design the ceremony to have less than 10 people in the room.

Student Representative Jackson Klingenberg, a senior at Manchester Valley High School, said he thought some students will be happy that the ceremony is more than just a virtual one, but others will not be satisfied, and are still mourning lost sports seasons, proms and other milestones. He asked if it would be possible for students to invite one teacher or coach.

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