In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic forced Mingo County’s two high schools to delay their graduation ceremonies until mid-summer, ultimately resulting in both having to be held outdoors on each school’s football field.

Despite the lingering effects and concerns regarding the pandemic, in 2021 the two schools will be returning to indoor ceremonies at the traditional time in late May.

Mingo Central High School’s graduation is set for May 28 and Tug Valley High School’s will be held the following night on May 29.

The determination on whether the graduations would again be held outdoors, or, if this year they would return indoors, was made earlier this week during a specially held Mingo County Board of Education meeting held Monday, April 26, at the Central Office.

Following a lengthy discussion, the board voted 4-1 to allow the schools’ principals — both of whom want the graduations to be held indoors — to make their own determination as to which venue to use.

Board member Sabrina Grace initially broached the issue during last week’s regular meeting. However, because it was not an agenda item the subject was only briefly discussed at that meeting.

Grace said she had the item put on Monday’s agenda because she previously had received multiple calls and messages from students and parents who said holding the graduations indoors would limit even more the number of family members and friends who could attend.

Because of these concerns, Grace said, she contacted both the WV Department of Education and the governor’s office to get direction on what procedure school systems should follow this year.

While graduations have historically always been left to the discretion of the schools’ principals, due to the continuing health crisis, Grace said she was informed that in 2021, at least, the state was delegating the decision to the local boards of education.

During Monday’s special meeting, both TVHS Principal Doug Ward and MCHS Assistant Principal Marcella Charles-Casto addressed the board and offered reasons why they believe the decision should remain the responsibility of the principals and why the ceremonies should go back to being held indoors.

Ward said both he and Casto have been involved with graduations for more than 30 years and that the planning and execution of graduations have always been left up to the principals.

“You know, we were asked about our thoughts on this and Mrs. Casto and I just feel this is something that needs to be done inside, not outside…it’s just not good to hold them outdoors,” he said

Ward presented several reasons why an indoor graduation was a far better option than an outside ceremony. He said unpredictable weather, health concerns due to the oftentimes extreme heat conditions like were manifested in 2020, and bleachers not always being easily navigable by older people were just a few of the major drawbacks he offered regarding outdoor graduations.

And, specifically in TVHS’s case, he said the gymnasium is actually able to accommodate 100 more people than the football bleachers.

Casto both reiterated Ward’s concerns and agreed with his reasons as to why holding graduations indoors is the better alternative.

As for an indoor graduation limiting access to family and friends, which Casto pointed out has often been a problem even in normal times, she explained how out live streaming can and does allow for more on-campus graduation guests to be accommodated.

She said a problem discovered last year and for which the school was heavily criticized afterwards was the ultimate failure of its live streaming ability when attempted at the outdoor venue.

“The internet ability is much less on the field … so some kids were not a part of that video because the Internet went out,” she said. “That and the sound we can’t control…the bottom line is a football field is just not designed for a graduation.”

Casto said five guest tickets were given to each graduate in 2020 but that this year six are being issued, and that these would be allocated even if the graduations were ultimately held indoors.

She said arraignments could also be made for extenuating circumstances that might require additional tickets for a graduate’s family members.

While she pointed out she had not talked to every graduating senior, Grace said the majority of seniors to whom she did speak stated they wanted the ceremonies held outdoors so that the risk of numbers restrictions could be reduced.

“How do (graduates) tell someone they’re not entitled to come, not important enough to come…where do you draw that line?” Grace said. “How do you tell six people they get to come and everyone else they don’t?”

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