Graduation ceremonies for Lincolnton County Schools Class of 2020 will be held on May 29 and May 30 but they will not be in their traditional form. The Lincoln County Board of Education met Tuesday evening and voted to keep the graduation dates the same as they were originally scheduled. Because of gathering restrictions, administrative personnel at each high school will arrive at a plan to hold some type of ceremony that meets the needs of their graduates while abiding by governmental restrictions on gatherings.  

Last Wednesday, May 6, a survey was sent via email to all high school students requesting their feedback on what form of graduation ceremony that they’d like to have. Students were required to answer the survey by Monday, May 11. The choices were

  • A staggered graduation with small groups of seven students and social distancing guidelines
  • Hosting individual and/or virtual commencement activities
  • A drive-in graduation
  • A drive-through or parade graduation
  • Delaying graduation to hold a traditional form of graduation at a later date.

There was a 52% response rate and of those responses, 66.4% said that they preferred to delay graduation, 13.3% wanted a drive-through or parade type of graduation, 8.2% wanted a drive-in graduation, 8% preferred an individual graduation and 4.1% wanted a staggered graduation.

In the committee meeting which was held on Tuesday, May 5, both Cathy Davis and Joan Avery indicated that they were in favor of delaying the graduation. Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Heath Belcher brought up a concern about students not being able to attend a postponed ceremony, but that he knew of some districts that were doing that. D. Todd Wulfhorst said that he didn’t think the ceremony should be delayed and wanted to figure out how to do a graduation on May 29 and 30. Heather Rhyne also expressed concern about delaying the ceremony and suggesting allowing the schools to decide which of the alternative options offered by DPI they wanted to do.

“I feel like we need to give these students a graduation and give them closure,” she said. “We need to let these students focus on their futures.”

During the regular board meeting on May 12, Rhyne opened the discussion saying that she rarely felt so strongly convicted about something that she would read something to them.

“The dates of our graduation ceremonies have been established, planned and communicated over six months ago,” she read. “This has allowed families to plan and prepare for this moment. Each and every senior’s graduation is equally important to them and their families. While this year has been one we have never experienced before, we have to remember that seniors across the state and the country are experiencing the same changes we see here in Lincoln County.”

Rhyne continued by saying that there has been a lot of discussion about the issue and that a survey was sent out to seniors with options. She indicated that the survey was flawed in one important area. 

“What was not asked when choosing Option 5 (delaying graduation) was, ‘now if I told you that some of our fellow classmates would not be able to attend if delayed, would you change your mind,’” she said. “We asked seniors to only think about themselves in this survey.”

Rhyne cautioned the other board members that if they voted to delay the ceremony, they’d be essentially excluding, and not caring about, those students who went into the job market, entered into military or went to college early.

“We have to think about all of our seniors,” she said. “The only date that we can ensure all our seniors can be present at graduation is the originally scheduled dates. I believe our principals are capable of planning a very meaningful and safe graduation for our seniors and that those powers should rest in their hands.”

Board member Tony Jenkins expressed concern about whether the surveys were completed by the seniors or their parents, but every student counted to him, not just those who answered a survey.

The results of the survey were not revealed to the board until Wulfhorst asked for them after Rhyne expressed her feelings.

“What’s the problem with giving a normal commencement in August and also do the one we talked about in May,” Wulfhorst said. “Our students have made it clear they want the commencement delayed to have a full ceremony. Why can’t you do both?”

Rhyne argued that no one knew what the future held and that the students had to be given some closure and point them towards their future. She also maintained that the majority of students didn’t vote in the survey.

“I’m with Heather on this but I’d like to see them graduate and I’m praying and hoping that we can have an open-air ceremony that we can be six feet apart,” D. Kirk Herbertson said. “I’m hoping the governor will change his mind.”

Davis recapped that was unlikely to happen in May.

After more discussion amongst the board members, a vote was taken. Board members Rhyne, Herbertson, Jenkins and Mark Mullen voted in favor of keeping the graduation dates on May 29 and 30 and letting each high school’s principal decide what form graduation ceremonies will take. 

Some Lincoln County Students like Alexa Bieberich, who is a senior at West Lincoln High School, were vocally disappointed in the board’s decisions.

“As a senior at West Lincoln I was infuriated and heartbroken to hear the news that my graduation was being ripped away from me after already losing my prom, sports season, awards ceremony, senior night and many other things that you look forward to in your senior year,” she said. “The school board sent an email to all of the Lincoln County seniors asking for our opinion on graduation, only to disregard it completely. Why ask for our opinions on our graduation if they weren't even going to be considered? The School Board is supposed to advocate for us. How can anyone have faith in the people that are supposed to advocate for their students when all the do is betray them? The Lincoln County School Board should be ashamed of the way they betrayed their seniors. The Class of 2020 was given a small glimmer of hope when we read that there might be a chance for a delayed, traditional graduation, only to have another thing ripped away from us. We deserve our graduation the way it should be, where all family members can come in and watch this huge milestone in our lives, with our classmates by our sides. Through all the anger, hurt and betrayal I am feeling, I still hold on to a small glimpse of hope that my fellow classmates and I will get the graduation we have worked so hard for and deserve.”

Specific graduation plans will be forthcoming from each high school.  

Also at the meeting, board members discussed the increase of $4 in the hourly wage of certain LCS classified employees. The additional funding was approved solely for those employees working in child nutrition, custodian and transportation because that’s all that was included within the parameters of the additional funding directed by Gov. Roy Cooper to help public schools and support the greatest needs to serve students during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I wish that we had more money that we could pay additional employees because we do have people out there doing lots of other work but when we talked about the essential front line folks, those were the three groups that this pot of money allows us to pay,” Superintendent Dr. Lory Morrow said. 

Grading guidelines were also approved by the board. Elementary and middle school students will not receive traditional grades for the year. High school students in grades 9-11 will have the option of choosing between a grade of pass/no credit or a numeric grade for their spring semester 2020 courses. High school students in grades 9-11 may also receive an additional five (5) points added onto their final numeric grade based upon their participation in remote learning. 

The grading policy for the current year will allow high school students in grades 9-11 and non-graduating seniors to choose which option is in their best interest under remote instruction since schools were closed March 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students will also have the option of receiving a grade of pass for the semester, based on their course grade as of March 13. Students who were not passing as of March 13 will be able to raise their grade to a pass or a passing numeric grade. Otherwise, the course will not appear on their high school transcript. 

A letter will be sent home to high school students providing students and parents with guidance for each option. Students will have 45 days from the start of school in August to finalize their selection on their transcript. Guidance counselors will be available to assist students in this process. High school seniors will not receive a traditional numerical grade but will receive a grade of pass or withdraw for the spring semester.

Elementary and Middle School students will not receive a final numeric grade on the report card but will receive feedback concerning their academic progress for the 2019-2020 school year. Individual decisions regarding promotion and retention of students will remain the responsibility of the school principal. 

The LCS Board of Education updated the 2019-2020 school calendar with a last day of school for students to be on May 22.  May 26-29 will now become Mandatory Teacher workdays.  Final student report cards will be available to students and parents the first week of June.  Schools will communicate to parents about report card distribution. 

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