School board calls special meeting on graduation

by | June 15, 2018 5:00 am

Last Updated: June 13, 2018 at 10:14 am

A last minute compromise on the program for the Colleton County School District’s annual graduation ceremony was hammered out during a special school board meeting the afternoon of June 8.
Board Chairman Charles Murdaugh and members Gale Doggette, Mary T. Jones and Darlene Miller sat down with Superintendent Dr. Franklin Foster to voice their displeasure with both the changes made to the graduation ceremonies and the fact that Foster had not alerted them to the changes.
Miller said she believed the board had been disrespected when they were not informed about the change that would limit the recognition of students for their accomplishments. That recognition, she said, gave those students “one time to shine.” She believed it was wrong to take that opportunity away from them.
It was pointed out that the accomplishment of those students who were not going to be singled out during the graduation ceremony had their accomplishments listed in the graduation’s printed program.
Miller said, “If it is listed in the program, can’t we read them?”
Foster explained that following last year’s graduation, school officials and law enforcement personnel got together for a debriefing on the event.
Foster said he and the board members, being on the field for the graduation ceremonies, where not aware of some incidents that law enforcement had to deal with — some visitors who needed medical attention for heat-related problems.
He said he came away from that debriefing with two changes he wanted made.
The first change he wanted would address the problems associated with the heat. He wanted the graduation ceremony changed from Saturday morning to Friday evening.
His other concern was the length of the graduation ceremony. Last year’s graduation took two-and-a-half hours.
He wanted the committee of high school officials who designed the annual program to shave one hour off the time. “I wanted them to look for ways to reduce the time we are there.”
The committee, he said, “spent countless hours, up until just now, to ensure we have a dignified ceremony that takes in the concerns to make a safe and successful event.”
One the moves made to shave off time was to limit the public recognition of students during the graduation ceremonies to the distinguished honor graduates and the honor graduates.
Foster said that he was mistaken in not bringing the ceremony’s changes to the board members’ attention.
He suggested that the board agree to proceed with the graduation ceremonies and then evaluate it like last year.
Gail Doggette said that she believed the general public, as well as the board members, should have been made aware of the changes.
She also expressed concern about Foster’s desire to shorten the graduation program. The students, she said, “spent 14 years of their lives” getting an education — they’re not going to worry about an hour. Graduation is a huge accomplishment for them.”
Foster said although the program had been shortened, “we are not rushing through it. The students still have their time.”
Logistics of conducting the graduation, he said, predicated attempting to shorten it.
The June 8 graduation began at 7:30 p.m. If it went for two-and-a-half hours, the ceremonies would not conclude until 10 p.m. Picture-taking and the graduates getting together with their family members and friends afterward, Foster said, meant “it would be midnight before we could clear our campus.”
Miller continued to press to have the section of the printed program highlighting all the students receiving special recognition read from the podium.
Foster said he doubted the program could be changed. “We are four hours away from graduation.”
Miller then focused her attention on the decision to eliminate the public recognition of the Thunderbolt Career and Technical Center students, pointing out that TCTC had more completers than in any other year.
Doggette also had a problem with the decision not to publicly recognize the TCTC completers, suggesting that it sent the wrong message.
“You are just recognizing college-bound kids without recognizing those with technical skills,” Doggette said, which suggests “that only college-bound kids are important.”
Doggette said having the TCTC completers stand and be recognized during the graduation ceremony would be “a happy medium.”
Miller said she still wanted everyone recognized but could support the recognition of the TCTC students.
Foster said he would talk to high school officials about getting that recognition added to the program.

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