Gaffney High seniors protest proposed graduation plans


CHEROKEE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – A group of Gaffney High School seniors gathered outside the Cherokee County school district office on Wednesday to protest the options they’d been given for graduation.

“For me, graduation has always been a dream,” Gaffney High School senior Kennedi Branch said. “And I know, for many others, this is the only graduation that they’re going to get.”

“Pride and Tradition” is the motto of Gaffney High School.

Many would argue that graduation is one of high school’s greatest traditions, and Gaffney High seniors and their families take great pride in celebrating the big milestone in Gaffney High’s football stadium, “The Reservation.”

But that pride and tradition is now in jeopardy as the Indians face their newest rival: COVID-19.

The principal of Gaffney High School posted a video on Facebook, saying there’d be a survey for seniors to choose between two options for how they could handle graduation.

The first option would allow students to have their ceremony on the football field as usual, but with students only. No family would be allowed to attend.

“She’s my oldest so it will be our first one to graduate, and this is something we’ve really looked forward to,” parent Ashley Rhinehart said.

“I’ve been waiting for it my whole life,” parent Summer McDaniel added. “Well, since he’s been born–his whole life.”

The second option would be to have several small ceremonies inside the school’s auditorium. With that option, the principal said each student would be allowed four guests.

Students said they felt the two proposals would force them to choose between family and friends, and they didn’t want to make that decision.

“Look at The Reservation,” senior Datavion Smith said. “You can’t space out a handful of students’ parents in that gigantic stadium? You can utilize the away side as well as the home side during the graduation to make sure they keep the social distance.”

After the protest, both Gaffney High’s principal and the superintendent addressed the students.

“Right now, fortunately, in Cherokee County, we’ve had limited cases; but we don’t want to be the cause of the spread of anything,” Gaffney High Principal Erik Gerstenacker said.

They told the students that they are open to suggestions.

“I know this is very important to you,” Cherokee County Superintendent Dr. Dana Fall said. “I know it is, and we’re going to do the very best we can within the guidelines that the state provides us.”

Seniors told 7 News they just want their voices heard.

“As long as we get to walk across the field and my family can see me walk across the field, because it’s supposed to be a magical moment,” Datavion Smith said.

“I do want my classmates and my family together on that day,” Kennedi Branch said. “It is supposed to be one of the greatest days of our lives.”

The current survey for seniors will be open until 5:00 p.m. Thursday. The results of that survey will be shared on Friday, and the principal said another survey will then open up.

One of the most common suggestions, made by students and parents, was to postpone graduation altogether until the Coronavirus pandemic dies down, in hopes that they can have the traditional ceremony then.

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