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DeKalb Schools to hold graduations a week after school year ends

The DeKalb County School District announced plans to hold graduation ceremonies at the Georgia World Congress Center the week after school ends in 2019, and some parents are steaming.

Katie Frame, whose son is a senior at Dunwoody High School, said the abrupt schedule change presents a challenge for many teachers and families with vacations already planned, and it could mean some students won’t attend the ceremonies because of conflicts.

“It’s so unacceptable,” she said. “It means that teachers won’t be there because they’re done with the school year. Students have summer jobs. Families have vacations. You’re going to take away from the entire experience by not having everyone there and available.”

DeKalb’s graduations will begin with a ceremony at Margaret Harris Comprehensive School for its students on May 17. The other graduations begin with Towers High School at 10 a.m. May 28 at the Georgia World Congress Center, with several schools each day through Sunday.

DeKalb and several other area districts have held their graduation ceremonies in recent years at the Georgia World Congress Center. It was booked during 2019’s graduation season by several conventions, including the Citrix Synergy 2019 technology event and MomoCon, a popular comics, video game and anime gathering.

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Atlanta Public Schools is holding its ceremonies instead at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion.

Frame said graduation dates are usually given to students near the beginning of the school year. Parents began asking after no information was received. Rumors started several weeks ago that graduation dates were moved after Atlanta Public Schools discussed the matter during its October board meeting. Frame said the district has other options it should have employed.

“They have the facilities to do graduations in their stadiums in the weeks that everyone expects,” she said. “They have a lot of options that are not … this. This seems to be the option that is the least fair to the teachers, the students, the families.”

The school district began exclusively contracting with the Georgia World Congress Center for its graduations in 2017 after a challenge during the 2015-2016 school year on using religious facilities, as had been a past practice.

Vasanne Tinsley, the district’s deputy superintendent for student support and intervention, said officials exhausted every option before finally contracting to hold graduations the week after school ends.

“We, unfortunately, do not have a large venue that sits in DeKalb proper,” she said. “Many other venues were booked because other districts got to them. We even looked at large warehouse spaces to see if there was something we could transform into a graduation venue. None of that panned out.”

Holding graduations during the last week of school also presented unique challenges, including some students being in school during a sibling’s graduation ceremony, or teachers unable to attend ceremonies due to class schedule conflicts.

“When we were looking at this, we were definitely trying to find a win-win for everybody.” she said. “We’re trying to do something in the best interest of all our students, knowing all students deserve a ceremony with dignity and something they can look back on and cherish.”

DeKalb County Board of Education member Stan Jester wrote about the graduation schedule Friday on his FactChecker blog, saying the district is “strangely quiet” about graduation ceremonies to this point. The district has not publicly announced its graduation schedule, but Jester posted it on his blog.

“I would imagine the seniors have jobs they have to start,” Jester said. “I think the minuses far outweigh the pluses (on this decision). And I can’t think of any pluses.”

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