Graduation options examined

Published 9:32 pm Monday, June 25, 2012

After ticket-holding guests were denied access to the Nansemond River High School graduation on June 16 because the gym was full, school district staff are researching their options for alternate locations for the Class of 2013’s commencement ceremonies.

Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said there is no count of people who were turned away at the school, but that the other two high schools did not encounter the same problem.

Each graduate at each of the schools a limited number of tickets for the gymnasium, where the ceremony was held, and the auditorium, where the graduation was streamed live on a screen. All others had to stay home and watch the ceremony on the Internet, where it also was streamed live on the school district’s website.

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The limited number of tickets has been a concern for students in the past. Annually, students push for a larger venue so that they do not have to cut out any family members, but the School Board has continued to support the school-based ceremonies.

With student populations projected to rise, however, that may not be a choice.

“Options for the 2013 ceremonies are being researched by staff, and may be discussed with the School Board if the board requests,” Bradshaw said in an email Monday.

Staff is looking at alternate locations, including the schools’ football stadiums or out-of-town venues, or other options like providing fewer tickets per student or additional live video feed locations besides the auditorium.

School Board Chairman Michael Debranski said the School Board is prepared to consider the option of moving the ceremonies to the football stadiums. Doing so would nearly double the number of people who are able to attend, he said, but would also require preparations to move the ceremony inside if inclement weather threatens.

He noted that Nansemond River had an unusually large senior class this year, which may have been the root of the problem. King’s Fork High School had about the same number, but its gym is larger.

School Board member Linda Bouchard said she wishes there were a sure-fire solution to the problem.

“It would be wonderful if there were some venue in Suffolk where we could have it,” she said.

Suggestions from students in the past have included venues in Norfolk, but School Board members felt it would be a hardship for some families, especially those in the farther-flung southwestern part of the city, to make the trip. Planning the ceremony in the football stadiums would raise concerns about heat-related illnesses, especially for older attendees, Bouchard said.

She added that one solution might be holding all of the ceremonies at King’s Fork High School, since its gymnasium is larger. However, graduates from the other two schools might not favor that plan.

“But that is an option to keep it in Suffolk a little while longer,” she said.