Oakland Mills High gets new graduation time

Change will accommodate students' religious practices

April 25, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Howard County school officials have changed the time of Oakland Mills High School's graduation to accommodate students whose religious practices might have conflicted with the original schedule.

Oakland Mills had planned to graduate its Class of 2002 at 8 p.m. May 31. But after learning from numerous community members that Jewish and Seventh-day Adventist students would be unable to attend, administrators set a precedent by juggling graduation rehearsals and event times to ensure that all students have a chance to walk across the stage.

The new time is 10 a.m. May 31.

"This is a special occasion," said school board Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt. "I am glad that they were able to do something to solve this this year."

Oakland Mills class valedictorian Reesa Phillips would have been one of the students at home that Friday night had the original time stood. As a Seventh-day Adventist, her Sabbath begins at sunset Friday and continues through sunset Saturday. The time is generally spent in church activities and with family.

The last Friday night in May will still be spent in worship, but now, her mother says, the family is planning a brunch for Reesa and out-of-town family members after the ceremony.

"We are pleased that she will be able to attend her graduation," said Pauline Phillips, a guidance counselor at Oakland Mills. "We are pleased that there were people in the community who were concerned enough to do something. We did not want this to be made an issue about our daughter. She was resigned to having it be whatever it was going to be."

Lucky for Reesa, and others who observe a similar Sabbath - such as members of the Jewish faith - that the community was not so resigned.

Kathy McDonaugh's youngest daughter is graduating from Oakland Mills, and their Columbia family had no problem with the 8 p.m. start - until McDonaugh heard about the Phillips family. "When I found out about this, I said, `This is just wrong,'" McDonaugh said.

Schuchardt said the five-member Board of Education was not aware until a recent board meeting - at which McDonaugh and others spoke - that anyone was being excluded by the graduation schedule.

For years, the Howard school district has held graduations in a whirlwind few days, back to back to back, fitting in as many schools at Merriweather Post Pavilion as possible. Generally, once the complicated schedule of rehearsals and ceremonies had been announced, no changes were made.

But this year, administrators made the effort. "This won't be a problem in future years," Schuchardt said.

Phillips said she hopes people realize that her family did not demand the switch.

"I don't expect people to change things to accommodate me. This is a conviction for me, but it's not for everybody," Phillips said. "All my daughter did was pray about it. She said, `You know, Mom, if God wants me to be at my graduation exercises, then he'll make it happen. If not, that will be OK with me.'

"She sees this as an answer to her prayers."

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