Attendance restriction lifted for RSS graduation ceremonies

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, May 18, 2021

SALISBURY — Rowan-Salisbury Schools administration on Monday removed attendance limits on its graduation ceremonies, clearing the way in less than two weeks for more traditional celebrations.

District Marketing and Communications Director Tracey Lewis said ceremonies held in each high school’s football stadium on May 29 will no longer be ticketed events. The limited number of tickets previously allocated to families to comply with outdoor gathering limits are now moot. Rowan County Early College and Henderson Independent high school graduations will be held on alternate dates.

As of Monday, Lewis said, the only change the district discussed was removing the ticket requirement. Lewis said masks are recommended when social distancing is not possible, but they will not be required outdoors.

The district’s Monday decision came as a result of the Friday announcement by Gov. Roy Cooper and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen to lift gathering restrictions and most mask requirements across the state. Masks are still required in schools. Cooper already lifted the outdoor mask requirement on April 28. The next day, the N.C. High School Athletics Association made masks optional for outdoor sports. As of Friday, DHHS still recommends people who have not been vaccinated wear masks in any crowded setting.

“We have to base our actions on that particular guidance,” Lewis said. “The governor and Dr. Cohen were clear on their recommendations based on the science and that’s what we have to rely on.”

Lewis said the restrictions in the order are clear for those who have not been vaccinated.

“Certainly we are not going to ask people whether or not they’ve been vaccinated, so it will be up to everyone to help us to mitigate the spread of COVID,” Lewis said.

Last year’s graduation ceremonies were a far cry from a normal year. They were all drive-thru events in high school parking lots. Families were allowed one car, and students walked across the stage before getting back in and driving off.

Last year, masks were commonplace, and there was no audience allowed aside from folks in cars with the graduates. At the time, the district promised a traditional graduation down the line, but the pandemic did not let up. The drive-thru ceremony was the only graduation the class of 2020 received.

The 2021 graduations will be held at 8 a.m. and are subject to changes in state guidelines.

The quarantine requirement for students remains at 10 days after an exposure. Lewis said the district’s mitigation strategies are working. Interim Rowan County Health Director Alyssa Harris said her agency is not changing the direction to the optional seven-day quarantine period for schools.

After a period of climbing student infections of quarantines when RSS sent students back most of the week, the district has seen two weeks of decline in those metrics. As of Friday, there were 21 active student infections, about .15% of all the district’s students, and quarantines had dropped to 480.

Staff quarantines and infections have continued to drop as well. There were only three staff positives as of Friday and eight quarantines.

Harris said it is important for people to follow the guidance and for people who have not been vaccinated to continue to take precautions and be aware they are not more interesting. The department is continuing to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Harris said people who have not been vaccinated are at a higher risk. Since most children are not eligible for the vaccination yet, they are a vulnerable group. Another consideration is the safety of people who have compromised immune systems and a lower uptake in immunity from the vaccine.

“We’re getting back to regular times before COVID, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe for everyone,” Harris said.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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