UPDATED: Dare Schools superintendent will now reevaluate graduation decision by June 1

Manteo High School's class of 2019 celebrates their graduation at Waterside Theatre on June 17. [photo courtesy DCS/Instagram]

Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly on Tuesday afternoon announced the district will reevaluate its plan not to hold traditional graduation ceremonies on June 1.

The news comes after announcing yesterday there would be no commencements for First Flight, Manteo and Cape Hatteras high schools. It also follows petitions that went up Tuesday from parents and students rallying support for commencement exercises for First Flight and Manteo high schools.

“After getting several communications from caring and passionate stakeholders regarding our graduation plan, we have decided to wait and re-evaluate our plan until June 1,” Farrelly said in an email to parents. “This will allow us more time to see if the state of North Carolina moves into deeper re-entry phases that may include more individuals being allowed to participate in mass gatherings. This could affect our graduation options.”

A Change.org petition to allow First Flight High School seniors had 447 signatures Tuesday afternoon, while a similar petition for Manteo High School had 505 signatures.

Click here to read the First Flight petition and here for the Manteo petition.

“Graduating is the reason we work hard throughout every school year. This class of 2020 was filled with kids with big dreams, talents, and many more!” wrote Manteo petition organizer Davien Flowers. “This past school year did not finish how we wanted it to, but one of the most important days in our life is high school graduation day.”

The county’s high schools had planned to offer free portrait and videos to seniors begin given there diplomas, but due to social distancing requirements, will not hold traditional graduation ceremonies, Farrelly announced Monday.

A survey of parents and seniors offered other options to hold commencements, including later dates this summer or drive-through ceremonies. But Farrelly said holding ceremonies isn’t possible under current local, state and federal guidelines.

In the First Flight High School petition, organizer Kim Folds said the school surveys “fell on deaf ears.”

“These students have worked hard for 13 years and deserve the opportunity to feel the honor of graduating as a community. FFHS traditionally has an outdoor ceremony which has already laid the groundwork for the ceremony to go forward,” she wrote. “Dare County has opened up to allow out of state homeowners and soon visitors to come into the county. Businesses such as Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe’s have parking lots packed full from open to close. There is no reasonable reason that the 2020 graduating class cannot walk while maintains a 6 foot distance which is more than what is happening within local businesses.”

In his statement this afternoon, Farrelly said some community members had expressed the desire to hold graduation ceremonies at traditional venues, which include the football field at First Flight, Waterside Theatre for Manteo.

“However, with the executive order from the Governor that bans any mass gatherings over 10, it would take 3-4 days at FFHS to get all families scheduled and through our process,” Farrelly wrote, also noting the weather could play a role at First Flight and that the National Park Service has closed the Waterside Theatre.

“However, I have communicated today with Superintendent Dave Hallac of the National Parks Service and he has received permission from his supervisor in Atlanta, Georgia for MHS to host an event following mass gathering directives (currently maximum 10),” Farrelly wrote.

“A special thank you to Dave who is a superior park superintendent and an even better person. Each school principal will consider the options that may be available and work with our leadership team to reexamine our plans.”

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Kari Pugh is digital director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, 94.5 WCMS and News Talk 92.3 WZPR. Reach her at kpugh@jammediallc.com