Union Co. school board votes for in-person graduation, defying Cooper’s order

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Union County has announced it is holding in-person, traditional graduation ceremonies with social distancing measures in place. The district had an emergency board of education meeting Thursday evening to discuss the graduation plans.

The Union County Public Schools Board decided in a 5-4 vote to hold the ceremonies in an outdoor stadium where students would maintain social distancing.

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According to Phase 2 of the North Carolina reopening plan, educational institutions are not included in the limitation of gatherings of 10 or more indoors or 25 or more outdoors. But the governor’s office did clarify that the exception for schools was not intended for large, in-person events, such as graduation ceremonies.

Specific arrangements for the ceremonies will be discussed when the school board meets again on Tuesday.

The decision also came after a unique protest Thursday.

Union County students and parents wanted to make their opinion known by displaying signs and honking their horns to show their support for an in-person ceremony. They were driving past the superintendent’s house and through his neighborhood during the meeting.

“We’re just here to be peaceful, make sure our voices are being heard and are being respected,” student Taylor Good said.

Statement from the Union County Sheriff’s Office:

The Union County Sheriff’s Office is aware that the Union County Board of Education voted Thursday evening to hold traditional in-stadium graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020. The dates and details concerning these ceremonies have not been finalized but we understand that plans will include guidance from public health officials in order to ensure the safety of students, staff, family members and others in attendance.

Several questions have been asked regarding these in-stadium ceremonies and whether the Union County Sheriff’s Office will enforce Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order as it relates to the maximum number of persons permitted at outdoor gatherings.

Sheriff Eddie Cathey stated, “Members of the Union County School Board are duly elected officials by the citizens of Union County. We respect and support their authority and will not interfere with any decision approved by the Board.“

Many other school districts have their graduation plans in place.

Cabarrus County will have a drive-in style graduation ceremony at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in mid-June. Seniors and their families will drive onto the infield and watch the ceremony. Then they’ll drive from the starting line to the finish line to get their diplomas.

For Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, seniors will get a prerecorded virtual graduation video with speeches and each graduate’s photo. And then they will pick up the diplomas during a drive-thru ceremony at their school.

There’s also a promise for a future school-based ceremony when conditions allow.