Neville’s live graduation was great a production, but flaunted most safety rules

It was wonderful to observe the virtual graduation exercises of two local high schools on social media this week. The smiling faces and excitement displayed the pride of students, having completed 13 years of education.

However, the methods used in one of the virtual graduations, suggest that the Monroe City School leaders have not fully grasped the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it spreads.

The graduation held by Neville High School was streamed live, with limited audience size. It was a grand production, that was in many ways, a better visual product that its traditional, non-virtual graduation.

The public clearly heard the challenging thoughts of student speakers and school officials. The visual close-ups of graduates receiving their diploma cases were sharper, clearer, and better than in the past.

The school went out of its way to ensure that the class of 2020 had a live graduation ceremony that would be memorable.

In its zeal to provide an uninterrupted graduation tradition, the school may have inadvertently taught another lesson to its students and to others who might follow its example. That lesson was that gloves, masks, and social distancing before and after events are optional and can be ignored.

Groups that sponsor large public gatherings, even those held outside, have been advised to observe social distancing rules to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus. In public, those who expect to be near others are asked to wear face masks and gloves for the same reason.

Since Monroe is one of the state’s last remaining hot spots where both the number of cases and deaths are steadily increasing, Monroe citizens should be conscientious. Unfortunately, while the Neville officials took pains to comply with some aspects of social distancing, it completely ignored others.

With over 200 graduates, the school spaced the seats of graduates six feet apart in every direction. The school followed the Governor’s safety proclamation to the letter in that respect.

What was striking is that not a single student wore gloves. On stage, the staff was gloveless and maskless as well. A couple of students had face masks but wore them under their chins.

After the graduation exercise, the excited parents of the students, who sat six feet apart in the stadium, bunched up to take photos of their children as they exited the football field.

Many of the students hugged each other, posed for photos, and high fived each other with gloveless hands.

Neville’s live-stream had thousands of views and scores of comments without a single negative comment because ceremony administrators deleted the Facebook comments of persons who questioned the safety of the ceremony.

Who made these decisions? The President of the School Board, Betty Cooper and Vice-President Brandon Johnson sent emails to the superintendent insisting that the district observe strict social distancing rules with graduations.

Instead of issuing directives to each high school, Superintendent Brent Vidrine allowed each school principal to decide their graduation methods.

It resulted in three different graduation styles. Carroll and Wossman complied with President Cooper’s request and chose virtual-only graduations.

Carroll’s graduation, which will stream this week, allowed parents to sit in the auditorium, five at a time, and spread out over the auditorium. They watched their children walk across the stage and then had to leave. Students and faculty wore protective coverings.

Wossman’s graduation featured speeches of Valedictorians and Salutatorians, and photos of each student were shown in the virtual live stream. No parents or students were allowed to come to the school, following strict protocols.

Neville High School was allowed to ignore most of the safety rules. It is a reflection on the Superintendent, who has the responsibility to ensure the safety of all students, especially in a crisis.

Public safety is not optional. Masks and gloves and social distancing in public situations are not optional either.

There is no doubt the tort lawyers have downloaded the video and will be armed and ready when the first COVID client whose family member attended the graduation walks into their office.