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GREENSBORO — The Class of 2020 will participate in drive-thru ceremonies this spring to honor their graduation from high school, Guilford County Schools leaders announced Tuesday.

In a school year disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has altered not just how institutions operate but the country’s way of life, the plan presented to the Guilford County Board of Education was inevitable. It was just the latest way to cope with the fallout the respiratory disease has wrought on so many levels.

Tony Watlington, the district’s chief of schools, told the school board the ceremony would work somewhat similar to how caps and gowns were recently distributed by high schools.

Students and family members would ride together to their high school. Each graduate would exit their car, walk across a stage to receive their diploma and get a picture taken with the principal.

Watlington added that Guilford County Schools would encourage neighborhoods around the schools to decorate their homes and yards to honor graduates.

Watlington said the dates and times for the drive-thru graduations have not been scheduled yet because the district is consulting with law enforcement.

The drive-thru events, however, wouldn’t replace traditional graduation ceremonies.

Watlington said the district is committed to holding those when it’s safe in light of the pandemic. What form that may take will depend on how well Guilford County and the state recovers from the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to Watlington, Superintendent Sharon Contreras consulted with senior class presidents, who overwhelmingly didn't want a virtual graduation.

Board members on Tuesday had a variety of questions and thoughts about the plan.

“It’s just been a horrible year for our seniors and I just hate so much for all that they are missing out on, but I think this is a good opportunity to celebrate them and their families,” board member Darlene Garrett said.

Fellow board member Anita Sharpe sounded less than thrilled with the drive-thru concept, asking why they couldn't break up the senior classes into groups of 50 or less and have traditional ceremonies in the high school stadiums instead.

And T. Dianne Bellamy-Small, another board member, worried about the potential for some people to get out of their cars to celebrate, which she said occurred during a similar event recently to honor teachers.

And she also stressed the need to notify surrounding neighborhoods about the district’s plan.

“The traffic backup is going to be horrendous and some people in the community are not going to understand what you are doing,” she said.

Also Tuesday, the school board voted unanimously to approve the budget recommendation from the superintendent.

That includes a request to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners for about $7.5 million in additional operating funds. 

The request also covers anticipated state salary increases, retirement and health insurance rates and about $170,000 in property and liability insurance.

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.

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