AHS graduation 1

Last spring, the Class of 2019 AHS seniors excitedly held their diplomas during graduation. 

Horry County high schools will hold in-person graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020.

Less than a month after school officials committed to virtual ceremonies, the Horry County Board of Education voted 8-3 Monday to give principals two choices for holding in-person graduations. The district has about 3,000 seniors.

“This is your time," chairman Ken Richardson said of the senior class. "You’ve earned it … We have to put closure on this."

Principals may hold an in-person small group event in the school gym or on the football field or hold a whole-class group event in the gym, auditorium or on a football field.

Board member Neil James said an "in-person small group" event could mean individual students walk across the stage with only their immediate family present, not the whole class. 

Early College High School, Scholars Academy, the Academy of Technology and Academics, and the Academy of the Arts, Science and Technology will be able to hold ceremonies at their buildings in a space designated by principals.

Schools have been closed since March 13. Two weeks ago, Superintendent Rick Maxey announced that graduations would have to be virtual, but school district leaders changed their minds after a backlash from seniors and their families.

All participation in ceremonies will be voluntary. 

The votes against the motion came from board members Russell Freeman, Janice Morreale and Shanda Allen.

Morreale and Freeman felt that the motion did not give enough direction to the principals. Both reiterated that despite their opposition to the motion, they trusted the principals in their district.

“I know he loves our students, but that’s not what we charged ourselves to do when we took this back," Morreale said. "We didn’t say we were going to spend two hours last week talking about it for us to vote to give it back to the principals. That’s not what we originally said we were doing. It’s a disservice for us to do that.”

Freeman agreed.

“Principals have plenty more to do than graduations,” he said.

Freeman said he would “move with the majority” and do what he was called to do on the board.

Board member Sherrie Todd felt the principals would do a good job. 

“We trust these principals 364 days of the year to do what’s right for our students," Todd said. "And on the 365th day, I trust them."

During Gov. Henry McMaster’s news conference Monday afternoon, state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said public health officials' guidelines for large groups also apply to graduation ceremonies.

“It is most important to pay attention to the social distancing,” she said. “Now we’re saying about 10 feet between people, especially if you’re going to be convened for a longer period of time. We continue to recommend the use of masks when you’re in a public place.”

For graduation ceremonies, Bell said state officials recommend limiting the number of family members invited to a ceremony. Other options include holding outdoor graduations and rotating ceremonies so all graduates aren’t in the same place at once.

“It’s still all dependent on the gathering of large groups of people,” she said. “The principles are the same."

At Monday's board meeting, the chairman Richardson asked the panel to think about where they were a month ago.

“We were trying to find someone to feed our kids," he said. "We had confirmed cases of our workers, we had a death of one of our workers and we wind up having the National Guard come to feed these kids. Think how far we’ve come in three weeks. Think where we might be three weeks from now. What we’ve got here is a good situation … we’re moving along. We’re giving these kids something they didn’t have two weeks ago." 

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