Despite plea from students, Science Hill graduation unchanged

Science Hill assistant principal Tony Spears — also a parent of a senior — spoke to the Johnson City Board of Education as Science Hill students looked on. Photo by Collin Brooks

Science Hill assistant principal Tony Spears — also a parent of a senior — spoke to the Johnson City Board of Education as Science Hill students looked on. Photo by Collin Brooks

By Collin Brooks

Members of the Johnson City Board of Education were beaming with pride at the fact that some of the student body from Science Hill spoke up on a graduation change that they wanted.

But that didn’t mean they were supportive of changing the date.

On Friday, Jan. 10, during a special called session, the board voted 5-2 to not change the date, time or location of the May 27 Science Hill graduation. Stacie Torbett and John Hunter were the two board members that wanted to push the time back for the ceremony, which will take place on Saturday at 9 a.m. inside Kermit Tipton Stadium. A change in venue is still possible, if rain is in the forecast, the ceremony will be moved to the ETSU Mini-Dome.

The five other board members, and Dr. Richard Bales — who was not in favor of a time or venue change — took time to praise a group of Science Hill students that were in the audience for their leadership skills, but they said changing the date, time or venue could have negative effects.

“I understand that there are a group of folks that want it changed,” BOE Chairman Tim Belisle said. “But there are other folks that have made plans and made decisions. My question is, in the future, what are we going to face if we go ahead and change it this year, this late into the game?

“Now shame on us for not having gotten feedback from the students directly, earlier in the year, but at this point, things have kind of been set in motion and I struggle with are we going to be fluid this late in the year, every year?”

The issue of moving the graduation was first brought up during the BOE meeting on Feb. 6, but since Belisle and Bales were absent, vice-chairman Kathy Hall said she would defer the vote until the specially called meeting.

The biggest issue, according to student representatives was the heat that was endured during last year’s ceremony, which was held at the football stadium since Freedom Hall was being renovated. Science Hill senior Julia Thomas said that the group wasn’t in search of a venue change — they loved their stadium — but they didn’t want to sit in the blaring sun. Also though, Thomas said it was a chance for her class to do something different.

“We have made so many memories on that field at night and I think that making our last memory up there, I think it would be really great,” an emotional Thomas said. “I have loved my four years at Science Hill and I really would just love to graduate under the lights. Friday, Saturday, I don’t care which day.”

Thomas said during the Feb. 6 meeting that 382 of the approximately 580 seniors at Science Hill approved moving the morning ceremony to either a Friday evening or Saturday evening time slot.

The pushback from the board came at the fact that changing the date or time could interfere with plans that had already been made.

“I have a hard time penalizing the people that already made plans,” Jonathan Kinnick said.

“It’s not their graduation,” Hunter responded before the room erupted in applause.

The date was confirmed during the December meeting, and has been made public in the board’s policy for almost a year, according to Bales. There is an alternative site at the ETSU Mini Dome, should rain be in the forecast on that day. That decision will be made the Wednesday prior to graduation.

Four parents of seniors spoke before the board began their discussion and three of them admitted that they weren’t aware of the date of graduation until the discussion of making changes arose.

The sole parent who was aware of the date change, Tony Spears — who is also the assistant principal at Science Hill — said that his comments came purely as a parent.

“I appreciate our students and the ability to show the initial fortitude and desire to speak their minds and handle things in the appropriate way,” he said. “…as a parent, my concern is not to do what they are asking, but the impact that it is having on parents that have already made plans for the dates that have been published.”

Concerns were also aired about the fact that some invitations had already been ordered, as had diplomas with the May 27 date, setting the course for a date change to be too difficult.

“If we had this discussion two months ago, I would be all for it,” Kinnick said, which was met by a head nod from Hall.

In the future, Hall said that the board should look to setup a mechanism, perhaps a vote by the senior class, to get their input.

“We are listening and we are considering it, don’t even feel, whatever the vote is, that you weren’t listened to,” said Hall before the vote. “You’ve done a great job and I hope, I really hope you learn that you can make a difference and you can at least get a conversation going.”


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