Polk Co. graduation plans altered to avoid ‘potential conflict’

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A second national crisis is once again affecting how seniors cap off their high school career.

Lake Gibson High School’s graduation planned for Saturday afternoon has been moved to 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

“The ceremony was rescheduled to an earlier time to avoid any potential conflict with recent demonstrations that have been taking place in our community. We apologize for the short notice,” a Polk County Public Schools Facebook post reads.

School officials declined to comment beyond the Facebook post.

Because of coronavirus concerns, Polk County Public Schools moved all graduations to Joker Marchant Stadium in June.

Health precautions will be in place, including mandatory face coverings, temperature checks and socially distant seating.

“I want to see my daughter get her diploma,” said Yvette Valdes, whose daughter Destiny, 17, is graduating Saturday.

Valdes was emotional when talking about everything her daughter has been through.

“She has struggled a lot emotionally,” said Yvette Valdes. “It makes me proud that she will finally be able to grab that diploma.”

Valdes isn’t thrilled about the early morning start time.

“I think it’s way too early first of all,” she said. “As far as what they’re saying because of the riots and all that, in Lakeland, as far as what I’ve seen, it was that one night and that was it.”

A large, diverse, protest remained peaceful at Munn Park Sunday afternoon.

Smaller crowds splintered off, blocking traffic outside Lakeland Police Department and Memorial Blvd.

There were reports of one vehicle being destroyed and windows being smashed in a local business.

Lakeland Police Department and Polk County Sheriff’s Office SWAT teams deployed tear gas and shot rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

School board member Billy Townsend was there and he does not believe it was necessary to move the graduation time.

“Not sure what the actual concern was. I think Sunday the people of Lakeland proved themselves. They had a thousand people in a park, in a somewhat tense situation that governed themselves extremely well,” he said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense. If it helps calm people down. It helps give people a sense of security, I’m fine with that.”

Lakeland police and the sheriff’s office will be in attendance at the ceremony Saturday.

For complete information about this year’s graduation ceremonies click here.

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