Frustrated parents gathered outside a Baton Rouge Community College gym Friday night as they were reportedly turned away — at least temporarily — from their kids' high school graduation ceremonies in the belief the venue was over capacity.
Jenna Broadway, whose cousin Lekeith Williams Sr. was at the Belaire High School graduation waiting to see his son Lekeith Williams Jr. graduate, said the family had been at her home a few blocks away before the 6 p.m. start time.
She said they left about 15 minutes prior to the start time, and it wasn't long after that she started seeing an influx of frustrated videos and photos from her cousin because he was locked out of the building and couldn't see his son graduate.
The crowd could be seen scattered through a parking lot, and crowding the doors.
"That's a moment they can never get back and they just continued and locked the doors," she said.
East Baton Rouge Parish School System spokeswoman Taylor Gast said there were 217 graduates who each received 10 tickets to the event. The BRCC gym has more than 3,000 seats, she said, so the venue was not over capacity, but it's likely that as some families left spare seats next to them, it created sporadic spaces in the seating configuration that made it appear overcrowded.
Gast said the graduation ceremony began as scheduled at 6 p.m., and staff moved the guests left waiting outside into the building as quickly as they could while not disturbing the ceremony. The graduation was scheduled to continue until 8 p.m.
BRCC spokesperson Kizzy Payton released a statement Friday night saying it was the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office that made the decision to restrict the flow of guests into the gym. The school system contracted with EBRSO for the event.
"Graduation is a special time for families and friends and we sincerely regret that the entry and exit of the building had to be restricted by the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office for crowd control issues," the statement reads.
"When having events of this size, we yield to the authority of the Sheriff’s Office and follow their directives to ensure the safety of all individuals present."
Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola confirmed that several officers from his agency also responded to a disturbance call and crowd control around 7 p.m. at the campus.
The BRCC statement says individuals were able to enter and exit the facility once the crowd was under control, and Gast said the school system will determine if it can make any changes to remedy the issue in future.
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