‘Kids don’t want to go’: Drive-in graduation plans announced, parents push for stadium ceremony

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Parents of seniors at New Hanover County schools aren’t giving up after hearing the new plans for drive-in graduation ceremonies.

With the ceremonies scheduled over the course of next week, parents are still trying to give their kids the most normal graduation possible.

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“This is a monumental moment for them, and they’ve lost so much,” Shadrica McKoy, the mom of a New Hanover High School senior, said

A lot of parents have spoken out over the last few weeks and months, saying they want to see a stadium-style graduation ceremony at a place like Legion Stadium with social distancing.

“I don’t really believe they have given it any thought,” Sandy McCluskey, the mom of a Laney High School senior, said.

Parents were baffled to hear the Board of Education’s decision to hold drive-in graduation ceremonies for its seniors.

“Kids don’t want to go,” Cassie Curtis, the mom of a Laney High School senior, said. “They want to be there with their class.”

Although time may be running out, parents in the district are still pushing for a stadium-style graduation. A petition created by two seniors at Hoggard High School received thousands of signatures from people pushing for a stadium graduation.

“Sitting behind your graduate on the field and maybe allowing a couple guests like your siblings to come in and watch their brothers and sisters graduate,” McCluskey said.

Parents say there are now a lot of other logistics to take into account, like taking time off work and choosing which family members ride in the car with the graduate. McKoy says it would be nice to at least have a few people there to sit with their senior instead of watching in the car from a distance.

“We could at least invite three or four, or maybe two people just to be there to cheer them on. They deserve that after 13 years.”

Over the last few days, dozens of parents have sent emails to the school board and New Hanover County Commissioners. Woody White responded to one of those emails as a parent himself.

“As you point out, the school board has had months to think through this,” White said. “Instead of providing leadership, it created a “task force” and then torpedoed the reasonable alternatives that were being considered.”

McKoy says she’d even be happy to help set up a stadium for the ceremony, and feels like their voices weren’t heard.

“What was the point of sending out a survey, getting our opinions, if you were totally going to disregard it,” McKoy said.

Curtis threw out another idea, saying she’d be happy with a stadium graduation even if parents weren’t allowed and were asked to watch it virtually.

“I would be happy if they had a graduation just with the kids,” Curtis said. “Just to bring the kids back together and have closure in saying goodbye to each other.”

Parents say graduation day is a day that’s been 13 years in the making, so it should be treated like one.

“We’re asking for them to give these kids their moment,” McKoy said. “give them something they deserve since they lost so much.”

Tuesday night New Hanover County Schools issued the following statement:

“It was with extensive deliberation and input from graduation task force members that the Board of Education voted to proceed with drive in graduations for our high schools. The Board of Education knows that this event is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication on the part of our seniors and their families. They had to weigh that knowledge against state and public health guidelines and potential health risks to our students and staff during this pandemic. Students will walk across the stage to accept their diplomas, have their names read, turn their tassels and, while it won’t be the same experience graduates had prior to COVID-19, students will be able to practice safe social distancing and minimize risk of exposure. It’s not a traditional ceremony by any means but it is an inclusive ceremony that allows for participation by all students regardless of health conditions.”