Liberty University 'unsafe' environment for graduation, some Lynchburg parents and students claim

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) — Emotions ran high at the Lynchburg City School Board Meeting Tuesday night. Several parents and students argued the district is making a mistake by moving high school graduations to Liberty University.

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"LCS is clearly telling those students and their families that they are not equal, they are not wanted," said Jennifer Williams.

Williams said the planned move would hurt many students. That includes her daughter Jessica, a junior at EC Glass.

"I do not feel safe or welcome anywhere near Liberty University due to the hateful and dangerous statements that they've made about my community, and my people," said Jessica, pointing to her status as both gay and Jewish.

In total, seven parents and students addressed the board, all opposed to the move. Many said it would force students like Jessica to choose between their beliefs and walking at graduation.

"We do value our students, our staff, our families," said LCS Superintendent Dr. Crystal Edwards. According to Edwards, this move is about trying to be more accommodating to students, finding a larger space for graduations that's out of the weather.

"Particularly with heat, with it being the end of May, early June-ish, temperatures can be upwards of 90 degrees," she said, noting the exposure is one of the primary reasons the board rejected using City Stadium.

Other officials at the meeting say the move will have no impact on graduation traditions, and doesn't violate the separation of church and state, since the Vines Center isn't an explicitly religious space and is used for many kinds of events.

Edwards also pointed to a study, conducted last year, that shows most parents and students are fine with the move. In the study, many praised the decision, one parent saying the EC Glass auditorium is so full during graduation "I couldn't even see my child walk across the stage."

However, those at Tuesday's meeting say space and weather are all relative. The most important thing to them is making sure all students feel comfortable.

"I would love it if I was able to invite everyone who has ever helped me along. But when it is at the expense of the students' safety and comfort, it is a non-issue," said Jessica Williams.

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