Wake County Schools holds out hope for Class of 2020 commencement amid coronavirus concerns

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- When Wake County Public School System was planning out commencement week, in the pre-pandemic days, this was supposed to be the "better" year, logistically.

The crush of graduation ceremonies that clog downtown streets in June would be split between two venues; some at the Raleigh Convention Center; others over at Reynolds Coliseum at NC State.

Planners had hopes that commencement in 2020 would be markedly less chaotic.

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Now, of course, all of the planning is in limbo. But the school board, Tuesday night, was still not giving up hope.

"We have very few rites of passage in our community. And certainly, high school graduation is one of those rites of passage," said District 6 WCPSS Board Member Christine Kushner.

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In a virtual Wake County school board chamber room -- members brainstormed about how to save graduation ceremonies for seniors.

While the district's webpage for graduation reads "currently unavailable," the state's largest school system is not ready to call off the caps and gowns quite yet.

"We have not given up hope of hosting graduation ceremonies in some shape or form this summer," said WCPSS Superintendent Cathy Moore. "Ultimately, of course, the guidance of health officials will drive our decisions."

District 9 Representative Bill Fletcher told members he is leaving his datebook open for commencement and also keeping an open mind to the many suggestions parents are passing along on ways to still have graduation and still be safe from COVID-19.

"I have received some inquiries as to will high schools do graduation ceremonies in their own football stadiums... establishing separation requirements and risk the weather -- going back to the old fashioned way, if you will, when the commencement ceremonies were held on campuses," Fletcher described.


Dr. Jim Martin, District 5 WCPSS board member, spoke directly to the Class of 2020, "To you seniors, our hearts go out to you. None of us wanted to see senior year look like this."

When he's not serving on the school board, Martin is a chemistry professor at NC State. He also used his time at the meeting to offer advice to graduating seniors who are in the process of applying for scholarship money at this time when the coronavirus has left senior grades in limbo too. Currently, under state guidelines, the only grades are "pass" or "fail."

"To any scholarship that asks you for an updated transcript, send them a letter describing what your grades were at the time of closure," Martin said. "Give them examples of what you are doing, how you're engaging during this shutdown. And send that letter along in the same way you would've sent your final transcript."

The first round of Wake County high school graduation ceremonies begins on May 20. That's 12 days after Governor Roy Cooper's current stay-at home-order expires.

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The governor could extend that order. But depending on the trends, the state could be in "phase 1" of an easing of restrictions - a prospect that could give WCPSS more flexibility for planning some kind of commencement.
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