UPDATE: Laurel County virtual graduation includes parents

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LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – Seniors and parents at North Laurel and South Laurel high schools have a revised plan for their virtual graduation.

Lawyers for the school district and a group of about three dozen parents met last week to try to hammer out a substitute plan for carrying out a graduation that allows parents to participate with their graduating seniors.

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Friday, students from both high schools heard from their principals with the revised, virtual graduation filming plan.

Now, two biological parents, or parent figure, will be allowed to go to the virtual filming with their student at their designated filming time.

Filming begins Monday.

Because of the large graduating class, the new plan including parents in the process, which slows down filming, will likely mean teachers have to extend their usual school year.

The last day of school for the district was May 14, but teachers are scheduled until May 21.

Although the district would pay the teachers and staff for their time, as the paper reports, the district can’t require them to work past their contract date.

The Sentinel-Echo newspaper says the cost for the extra work would be about $110,000, Superintendent Doug Bennett said.

About 600 seniors are graduating between the two high schools. Graduation had been set for May 6 and May 7 but that was postponed after Laurel Circuit Judge Michael O. Caperton issued an order Tuesday evening blocking the district’s plans and ordering the sides to find an alternative.

That came after a day-long court hearing. But Wednesday evening’s meeting left the issue in a stalemate.

The Laurel County Board of Education had designed a plan in which students would participate in a graduation ceremony by groups of 10 students in four designated areas of the school.

But the parents filed a lawsuit Monday, May 4, requesting to be included in the ceremony.

The next day, Caperton ordered the school district to revise their plans to include the graduate and two biological parents or parent figure to attend the ceremony.

ORIGINAL STORY

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – Tuesday night students got a phone call informing them virtual graduation plans have been postponed.

Some three dozen parents and their graduating seniors want a judge to block the Laurel County Board of Education’s plans for graduation for South Laurel and North Laurel County high schools.

The lawsuit was heard Tuesday. A judge Tuesday night ordered the district to revise its plan to include the graduate and two biological parents or parent figure.

The district and parents will meet at 5 p.m. Wednesday to go over potential plans.

The parents originally said the plan, which did not allow parents to attend an event where seniors will be given their diplomas in small groups and then filmed, takes away one of their proudest moments as a family, is not the safest option in the coronavirus epidemic, and should be replaced by plans similar to those being conducted by other districts where small family groups participate in individual diploma events.

The parents argued the school district’s plan did not adhere to graduation guidelines issued by the state or the Centers for Disease Control

The lawsuit is filed in Laurel Circuit Court. (Click here to read court documents and parents’ affidavits: Verified Complaint, LCBOE      Exhibits, Meader vs LCBE)

The parents want the judge to issue a temporary injunction blocking any proceedings, since the process is scheduled to start Wednesday, May 6, under the plans announced by the school district.

The parents also want a permanent injunction.

Tuesday night the students got a call that virtual graduation filming were postponed.

“Unnecessarily prohibiting parents from attending is cruel and arbitrary,” the parents argue in the lawsuit, noting that other counties, including Whitley and Rockcastle, are allowing from two to six family members to accompany a senior to receive a diploma.

Those plans isolate the family from contact with anyone else. Pictures or viedeo will be provided in all the scenarios, according to court documents provided by the parents.

Laurel County school leaders say part of the problem is the time factor. The other districts have much smaller graduating classes of about 200 students while Laurel County has some 600.

The parents prefer what is known as the “Gulfport Plan,” as outlined by the state Board of Education. It is the one that allows parents and student to be present for the diploma moment. The parents argue the district’s plan could expose students to nine other students while the Gulfport plan only exposes them to family members to whom they already are exposed.

The Day family is not one involved in the lawsuit and believe the original plan was good idea.

Dylan Day is a graduating senior at South Laurel High School. He says he’s happy there’s a plan for a graduation at all.

”I know it was a big relief of anxiety for me because I was worried. You know how is this gonna go? Are we gonna have a graduation? I feel like it’s more special and unique,” he said.

And definitely memorable.

In addition to the virtual graduations, many districts still are planning to try to have actual traditional graduation ceremonies in the summer if the coronavirus restrictions currently in place against mass in-person gatherings are lifted.