Governor’s new order opens up graduation

By ELIOT DUKE
Of the Record staff
Posted 5/19/21

Gov. Roy Cooper helped Harnett County Schools make a pretty easy decision about this year’s graduation season.

For the first time in more than year, Cooper last week said vaccinated North …

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Governor’s new order opens up graduation

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Gov. Roy Cooper helped Harnett County Schools make a pretty easy decision about this year’s graduation season.

For the first time in more than year, Cooper last week said vaccinated North Carolinians can take off their collective masks in most indoor and outdoor settings as improved metrics in the COVID-19 pandemic continue and vaccines stay readily available. Following similar guidelines recently issued by the CDC, Cooper lifted all mandatory capacity and gathering limits, social distancing requirements and most mask mandates.

“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve said we would listen to health experts and follow the science as we made decisions,” Cooper said. “We would listen to the CDC. Our focus would be on saving lives. We would use a dimmer-switch approach to easing restrictions. We’re continuing to do all these things.”

Cooper’s executive order went into effect immediately for most outdoor and indoor settings, but mask use remained mandatory for public transportation, child care, schools, prisons and other designated health settings.

“There will also be strong recommendations from NCDHHS for unvaccinated people to wear masks,” said Cooper. “Certainly anyone who feels better protected or has received advice from a doctor should continue to wear a mask.”

Removing social distancing and capacity guidelines allowed Harnett County Schools to fully open up its football stadiums for graduation ceremonies. HCS took a very cautious approach to graduation and avoided making any concrete decisions amidst ever-changing health protocols. The system held a pair of surveys for parents to voice their opinions on the type of ceremony they wanted to see in 2021 after such a disrupted cycle last year thanks to COVID-19.

Results from a second survey showed a majority of those who responded preferred a return to a traditional ceremony. The HCS Board of Education kept their options open regarding crowd sizes in the event protocols changed.

The strategy paid off.

Cooper’s announcement made it possible for more people to attend this year’s ceremonies in person, and mask free.

“The governor is increasing capacity in all situations and dropping the mask requirements for most settings ... and we are going to follow that,” HCS Superintendent Aaron Fleming said. “This was a big move by the governor as far as dropping so many of these restrictions. We are again seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re moving a little closer to the end of the pandemic. We know it’s still out there so we’ll still be careful.”

Jermaine White, HCS assistant superintendent of student curriculum, said all four of the county high schools increased ticket allocation for students. Triton High School and Harnett Central seniors received five extra tickets for a total of eight, Overhills went from three to nine apiece and Western Harnett jumped from three to 10 each.

“The governor’s order has allowed us to increase ticket allotment for the students and their families,” said White. “Our ability to accommodate the families based on what the governor did last week, certainly benefits everyone. We want to have the best graduation ceremonies that we possibly can.”

Overhills and Harnett Central scheduled graduation for 7 p.m. June 3. Western Harnett and Triton will hold commencement at 9 a.m. June 4.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038.

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