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Dayhoff: Graduation was different for Carroll County schools in 2020 — and in years past, too [COMMENTARY]

Traditionally June is the time of the year when graduating high school seniors celebrate the end of the school year with graduation ceremonies throughout Carroll County. However, nothing has followed tradition in the year of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, for pomp and ceremony, the graduating seniors had to settle for a virtual walk across the stage and various alternative celebrations. According to a Carroll County Times article, “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…”

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On June 16, the graduating seniors from Westminster and Winters Mill high schools teamed up with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, Westminster Police Department, and the Westminster Mayor and Common Council to put together a car caravan from one high school to the other.

Interestingly, historically, something not well known is that in 1950 there were no graduation ceremonies in Carroll County. On April 5, 1946, the Democratic Advocate reported that there was to be no graduating class in 1950: “… in 1950 an unusual situation will prevail. In that year there will be no graduation exercises of the high schools.

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“The reason will be that schools that have the seventh grade this year (1946) started under the 12-year program recently prescribed State-wide for Maryland’s public schools. Students in the eighth grades and upwards will finish their high school course under the old 11-year program.

“Hence, by 1950 the last class of the 11-year students will have been graduated and the first class of the 12-year students will have a year more to go. There just will be no graduation exercised at Westminster and other county high schools in 1950.”

In researching the history of schools in Carroll County and Maryland, one comes across many references to early graduations and “firsts.” Perhaps the first reference to schools in Maryland occurred Thursday April 13, 1671, when the “Upper House” of the Maryland General Assembly “read an Act for the founding & Erecting of a School or College within this Province for the Education of Youth in Learning & Virtue,” on first reader.

The “Upper House” took the bill up on Saturday, April 15, 1671, and passed the measure…” However, in a tradition carried forward to this day, the measure was not funded.

As an aside, that afternoon, the assembly also passed “An Act for the Encouragement of the Sowing and Making Hemp…”

According to research for the Historical Society of Carroll County by historian Joe Getty, it was “in 1865 when the state government mandated formation of a county school board. Carroll County protested this development, but the county school board was established …”

It is accepted that the first public high school built in Carroll County was the Westminster High School located at the corner of Green and Center streets in Westminster. It was built in 1898.

It was not too long after the 1898 structure was built that complaints began about the inadequacy of the physical plant. Many today are not aware that in those days the building was three stories high — as opposed to the current structure, which is two stories.

When I attended the 1898 facility from 1959 to 1961, it housed the first and second grades. Yes, I soldiered to school every day through blizzards, hurricanes, volcanoes, swarms of locusts and earthquakes (but no pandemic.) Of course, it was uphill both ways, and I walked through snow well over my head…

There were seven students in the graduating class of May 1900. According to historian Jay Graybeal, there were 139 schools in Carroll County in 1920. Of those, 107 had only one teacher.

In 1921, the Westminster High School yearbook, “The Mirror,” editorialized the increase in enrollment since 1898 with alarm. It had increased from “less than fifty” to over 260 students.

As with so many infrastructure improvements in Carroll County, getting a new high school built was fraught with acrimony and dissent. The county unsuccessfully tried three times — May 15, 1922, Sept. 26, 1927, and April 3, 1934 — to get the voters to approve bond bills for roads and schools, to include a new Westminster High School.

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The new school was also the topic of a great deal of heated discussion among elected officials in the community. The new high school finally opened in 1936 — after the Women’s Club of Westminster lobbied aggressively that the school be built. We know it now as East Middle School on Longwell Avenue. In 1936 the students lined up and carried the library books from the old school on Center Street to the new school on Longwell Avenue. That building was used as Westminster High School until June 1971.

If you think that our present-day political discussions over education and schools in Maryland are interesting, researching the history of education in Carroll County is a— historian’s dream. It’s better than ice cream.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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