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WATCH NOW: Local high school graduations return to traditional format
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Burke County Public Schools

WATCH NOW: Local high school graduations return to traditional format

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Traditional graduation ceremonies essentially will return to local high schools this spring, Burke County Public Schools announced Thursday.

A year after graduations were held in walkthrough style due to COVID-19 concerns, ceremonies will return to their conventional in-person format in May, albeit with COVID-19 health and safety protocols in place. To accommodate social distancing guidelines, families will sit together in designated areas, health screenings will take place upon entrance and masks will be required.

BCPS said graduation ceremonies will take place indoors for Burke Middle College, Draughn High School, Hallyburton Academy and Patton High School, and outside for East Burke High School and Freedom High School, though indoor contingency plans are in place for EBHS and FHS in the event of inclement weather.

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The announcement comes just days before BCPS will send students back to in-person learning on a full-time, five-days-per-week basis for the first time in more than a calendar year.

“After a year of navigating through COVID-19 restrictions and the uncertainties of in-person learning, unfortunately our seniors have missed out on many traditional senior year experiences,” said Felicia Simmons, BCPS Director of Secondary Education, in a release. “We are beyond thrilled that state restrictions have eased to the point that we can hold traditional graduation ceremonies where families can gather to watch their seniors receive their diplomas and enjoy the experience with their classmates.”

Burke Middle College will be the first to hold its ceremony, doing so at 4 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday, May 24, at Western Piedmont Community College in Morganton. Three other schools will follow on Wednesday, May 26, at Hallyburton Academy holds its ceremony at 3 p.m. in its gymnasium and East Burke High School and Freedom High School do so at 6 p.m. that evening at their football stadiums. The final two graduations are scheduled for Thursday, May 27, as both Draughn High School and Patton High School host their ceremonies at 6 p.m. in their gymnasiums.

“Last year’s walkthrough graduation ceremonies were special and memorable, but the class of 2020 missed out on experiencing the moment with their fellow graduates,” said Mike Swan, assistant superintendent for BCPS, in the release. “While our high school graduation ceremonies this year will still follow current CDC guidelines and meet state regulations on crowds and social distancing, the class of 2021 and their families will have the opportunity to experience a more traditional graduation as seniors walk across the stage and receive their high school diplomas.”

Each school will release more specific information regarding their graduation ceremonies, BCPS said.

Justin Epley is a staff writer for The News Herald. He can be reached at

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