By David Meade
Anderson School District One Superintendent David Havird spoke to approximately 260 people who attended an informational meeting at New Hope Baptist Church Sunday evening.
The meeting, which was advertised by email, social media and word of mouth, was open to persons in the community concerned about a decision by the school district not to hold the baccalaureate service at Palmetto High School.
Havird explained that dealing with legal issues is a part of his responsibility as Superintendent and that after evaluating the issue, he made the decision for the schools not to sponsor the baccalaureate services. According to Havird, the services, which were being organized by the schools, were clearly not within the law and set the district up for a potential lawsuit.
“We live in a very diverse community and have for the last eight to twelve years,” Havird said. “With may different faiths and views and we strive to follow the constitution as it impacts all families.”
Havird explained what is and is not allowed in the schools., giving a number of examples of religious related activities that are allowed.
In the one issue of the baccalaureate service he said, “We have not been following current law, as school led and sponsoring everything but the sermon. School sponsorship is unconstitutional.”
Havird said that if the service continued as a school organized and led baccalaureate service, it was setting the school district up for a “time consuming and potentially expensive lawsuit which we can not win.”
“I sincerely understand what the baccalaureate service means to our students and our commuity,” he said. “There was never any consideration not to have a baccalaureate service. The best options is to continue the practice within the guidelines of the law.”
Havird explained that after researching the issue and to be in compliance with the law, the thought was that area churches or pastors could organize the service and that it could rotate to different churches each year, providing an opportunity for students and their families to visit and to be hosted by various churches.
He said that New Hope had volunteered to host the Palmetto baccalaureate service this year, along with Grace Church in the Wren area and Bethesda Methodist at Powdersville. All three services were to be held on May 25.
“My expectation was that we could shift from the school auditorium to a church/private sponsorship with a church,” Havird said. “Obviously that didn’t occur,” a statement which obviously relieved some fo the tension by drawing laughter from some in the audience.
Havird offered several alternatives including having a church or churches sponsor the event either at a church or at the high school.
Havird said the district wanted to respect the wishes of the community and to “provide a quality service which honors our graduating seniors.”
After his comments, Havird responded to questions from several members of the audience.
A number of area pastors, at least seven or more attended the meeting, and several spoke or asked questions. There were also comments from several pastors who said they only recently heard about it. One pastor suggested turning the service over to the students and offered to help.
One question that was asked by a concerned person to Havird was whether the school board had voted on the issue or would be voting on it. Havird said that the board did not vote on it, but that it would probably be discussed at the next meeting, although it was not on the agenda.
School Board Chairman Fred Alexander and at least one school board members attended meeting, but did not speak.
There was some discussion about when the decision about the baccalaureate services was made and the timeline involved. Havird said school principals were instructed last August to begin the process of finding a church or pastor to help sponsor or hold the services.
The school board meets Tuesday, April 29 at 7 p.m. at the District One offices in Williamston.
A Baccalaurete Service is a celebration which honors a graduating senior class from a college or high school. The event is typically a Christianity-based interdenominational service, though it may also be of a strictly Catholic nature.
The service is held within a few days of the graduation and/or commencement ceremony, perhaps on the Sunday before, the day preceding, or immediately preceding the graduation. Speakers selected tend to be community leaders, faculty members, students, or local religious leaders, and may be elected by the graduating class. Speeches are often intermixed with musical performances, drama, and worship. Baccalaureate addresses can range in length from under half an hour to as long as four hours