Spectators allowed at Haywood graduations
Graduation ceremonies will be allowed as many spectators as school sporting events this spring, after the Haywood County Schools Board of Education authorized Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte to use spectator rules for non-athletic, end-of-year programs and ceremonies.
When students returned to partial in-person instruction last fall, state regulations strictly limited the number of spectators that could attend school events, including school sporting events. When the North Carolina High School Athletic Association began allowing spectators at NCHSAA sanctioned events, attendance was limited to 7 percent of venue capacity, without exceeding 100 people. For Haywood County, that meant only 100 spectators would be allowed at the Pisgah Memorial Stadium for the annual Pisgah/Tuscola rivalry football game — an event that usually draws over 10,000.
When Haywood County School Board members reached out to NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker to raise the 100-person limit, there was no meaningful response. Instead it took the continued effort of HCS board members, Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers, former congressman and NFL quarterback Heath Schuler and Asheville Rep. Brian Turner appealing to the governor’s office as well as to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
On Feb. 26, just in time for the Pisgah Tuscola rivalry game, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that the limit on outdoor stadium attendance had been raised from 100 spectators to 30 percent of stadium capacity. Effective April 30, a new executive order raised attendance capabilities to 50 percent of stadium capacity. Players, coaches and officiants are not included in the capacity calculations.
However, after all the debate around attendance at sporting events, there were still no regulations regarding attendance at non-athletic school events. Parents, students and staff communicated their concerns about upcoming graduation ceremonies to HCS administration. On May 3, the Haywood County Schools Board of Education voted to authorize the superintendent to use the sporting event spectator capabilities, which are the largest available for public schools, for non-sports related end-of-year programs and ceremonies.
“You are on firm ground here,” said Board Attorney Pat Smathers. “Gov. Cooper issued his latest order, governor’s order 209 allows for half the occupancy of fire code, for assemblies everywhere. Section 5.2A makes it specifically incorporated into education. So, you’re good.”
This allows end-of-year programs and ceremonies to have spectators up to 50 percent capacity of each venue. Both C.E. Weatherby and Pisgah Memorial stadiums will be permitted 3,500 spectators, high school gymnasiums will be permitted 463 spectators, and high school auditoriums will be permitted 250 spectators. Masks are still required inside school facilities and are encouraged but not required in outdoor venues.
“I want to thank students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members for their feedback on this issue,” Nolte said. “Throughout COVID-19, we have been faced with many challenges and perplexing state regulations. I’m proud of our board, staff, parents, and community for focusing on our students and consistently finding a logical path forward.”
Want to go?
The Haywood County Board of Education announced the following graduation dates at the May 10 board meeting:
• Haywood Early College graduation ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, May 14, at the Haywood Community College auditorium in Clyde.
• Haywood Community Learning Center graduation will take place at 4 p.m. Thursday, June 3, on the HCLC campus.
• Pisgah High School graduation will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, June 4, at the Pisgah Memorial Stadium.
• Tuscola High School graduation will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 5, at the C.E. Weatherby Stadium.
• Central Haywood High School graduation will take place at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 7, at the Haywood Community College auditorium.