Indoor graduations eyed

Published 1:19 pm Friday, July 31, 2015

By Abby Proch

Staff writer

Heat caused several issues at commencement

After nine people needed medical attention, some due to heat exhaustion, at the Smithfield High School graduation in June, the school division is considering moving the event indoors.

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Isle of Wight School Board Chairwoman Denise Tynes asked school staff to research indoor venues outside the county that could fit Smithfield’s graduating class, around 300 students, to prevent future incidences of heat illness.

The June 13 ceremony took place at Packer Field and began at 9 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, in an effort to avoid the heat.

National Weather Service records show Wakefield reached a high of 96 degrees that day, though not at 9 a.m.

Still, people were observed shading themselves with umbrellas, fanning themselves with anything resembling a fan and even taking refuge under the field’s bleachers.

Graduates, as well as teachers and administrators who sat on the field, were given water bottles to stash under their chairs.

One parent told Tynes she missed her daughter accepting her diploma because her younger child fell ill.

Isle of Wight Rescue Squad Chief Brian Carroll said county fire and rescue agencies treated nine people for heat exhaustion, diabetic issues, cardiac care, bee stings and general illness. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

County agencies also had to cover other stations to ensure continuous service throughout the county, said Carroll.

Carroll noted that the school division did not request rescue services and the squad was not involved in planning the event.

In an after-action report submitted to the Department of Emergency Services, Carroll noted that future events should include an incident action plan that includes allowing EMS staff access to school staff radio traffic, staging a bus for mass casualties, and providing additional tablets to write multiple reports.

Carroll is also requesting a meeting with school staff.

Tynes also stressed that she wanted a venue large enough so the school division doesn’t have to restrict the number of guests graduates could invite.

Tynes said the school division should not be restricting who can attend the event because everyone defines family differently.

In 2012, a graduation committee researched the very subject and found that venue rentals ranged between $6,000 and $20,000, depending on the number of attendees they fit.

That quote did not include security, technology needs or other accommodations.

The committee had concerns that families may not be able to attend an out-of-county venue and that holding the semester on campus is sentimental.

At the time, the School Board dropped the issue after concluding it was too expensive.

Graduation has been held in the gym and on the field alternately in the past decade.

From 2004 to 2007, it was held outside.

In 2008, it moved inside to avoid the smoke from a North Carolina wildfire.

The 2009 ceremony took place in the gym, with overflow seating and a video projection screen in the auditorium.

Each graduating senior, all 290, received four tickets for the gym and two tickets for the auditorium.

According to a capacity evaluation conducted after the 2008 ceremony, the gym can fit about 1,700 people and the auditorium holds 850 people.

In 2013, the ceremony returned to Packer Field.