Lenoir City High School holds
graduation amidst controversy
LENOIR CITY (WATE) - Many high schools across East Tennessee held graduation ceremonies this weekend.
On Saturday morning, Lenoir City High School, a school that has faced a lot of controversy this year, also held its graduation ceremony.
Students and parents in Lenoir City have been embroiled in a heated controversy over a single page in the high school yearbook. The one page write-up entitled "It's OK To Be Gay" profiled the experiences of a student named Zac Mitchell.
During the 2012 Lenoir City High School graduation on Saturday, there was tension in the air.
"There was a little bit of a tense feeling, I think there was an anticipation of thinking of certain things would happen," said Kimberly Palmer, a mother of a 2012 LCHS graduate.
Lenoir City Police stepped up their presence after hearing talk of possible protests during the ceremony, directed mainly at Mitchell, the gay student who was featured in a controversial article in the yearbook.
"I remember when I graduated there was a lot of beach balls everywhere, but this year there was a lot of police around," said Ana Guzman, a LCHS alum, attending her brother's graduation.
Despite talk of punishing the students involved with the yearbook, all of them walked Saturday.
"I heard there was going to be protesting and a lot of things. I'd figure people would hold it back for the ceremony," said LCHS graduating senior Ashley Naumoff.
No protests or disruptions happened during the ceremony and the majority of the audience cheered as Mitchell received his diploma.
"There was a lot of support from everybody. He's a great guy, there's nothing bad in the yearbook, I didn't think" said Guzman.
There ceremony was emotional for another reason. Chelsea Townson, a graduating senior, lost her mother last week. Kimberly Townson, 42, was killed in a car accident on I-40, she was on her way to watch Chelsea play in a softball game. Townson was also a teaching assistant at LCHS.
Chelsea Townson received a standing ovation as she received her diploma.
"Everyone has been saying how they've been praying for me and my family, they've all been behind me the whole way," she said.
The school has attracted widespread attention after receiving complaints by the "Freedom From Religion Foundation", a Wisconsin-based organization who complained about prayer being used during school functions. School officials ended prayer before school board meetings because of the complaints.
Earlier in March, an atheist student complained that teachers were promoting religious ideals. School officials decided not to publish her editorial in a school newspaper.
Parents said the issues have been distracting throughout the school year. Kimberly Palmer said the school has handled the distractions well.
"I think it was a little disrupting at times, but I think they handled it well, I really do," she said.
Departing students said they're confident things will get better.
"It's kind of upsetting to hear all that, but I know our school will get through it," said Naumoff.
The Lenoir City School Board last week promised parents and residents that a full investigation will be conducted into the publication in the high school's yearbook.