COVID-19 concerns surface as 700+ gathering in Raleigh next week for NC bar exam

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With more than 700 people expected to gather in Raleigh next week for the bar exam, some recent law school graduates are raising concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 and reaching out to Gov. Roy Cooper (D) about the situation.

Britni Prybol graduated from Campbell Law School in the spring and is scheduled to take the bar exam next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Prybol has survived two forms of cancer and has a suppressed immune system following her treatments. She’s worried she could be exposed to COVID-19.

“I think we’re so naïve to this virus. We haven’t even had it here a year. And, I think we are being gambled with,” she said. “If we have to take this exam for two days in the middle of a pandemic, I’m just not sure what it says about our profession.”

She’s reached out to the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners about offering a remote option for people to take the exam. She said she does not want the exam canceled altogether, saying that would be unfair to the hundreds of other people who’ve prepared for it and want to move forward with getting their licenses.

“Those of us also who are just terrified of this virus and do not want to risk their life or a family member’s just to take this test for two days, we need another option,” Prybol said.

She’s among more than 200 people who wrote to Cooper and the NCBLE earlier this month, noting the limits on mass gatherings and calling for “greater measures” to deal with the risk posed by COVID-19.

Documents posted on the NCBLE website earlier this month show people who come to Raleigh for the exam will have to acknowledge and assume “all risk of exposure” to COVID-19, including the possibility of dying as a result of it.

“It really blew my mind. And, my first thought was if it’s this unsafe, why are we doing it? Why is this exam being held?” Prybol said.

Kimberly Herrick, chair of the NCBLE, said the board is taking a variety of steps to try to minimize the risk to people taking the exam.

“We do want people to understand before they can come that there’s no way we can guarantee there are no risks to this exam. We’re doing everything we can to make it as safe as possible,” Herrick said.

She said masks will be required, people’s temperatures will be taken and multiple entrances will be open with people assigned an entrance to use.

The exam will be conducted in the Jim Graham building and the Expo Center at the North Carolina fairgrounds as well as at the McKimmon Center at North Carolina State University.

Herrick said even before COVID-19, people were spaced apart for security reasons, adding that they will adhere to at least six feet of social distancing.

“I certainly understand why people are nervous. We’ve tried to provide as much as information as we can,” Herrick said. “We’re doing everything that we can with guidance from the CDC to make sure that it’s extremely safe for everybody.”

In a letter to Cooper Thursday, attorney Kieran Shanahan, who is representing Prybol noted that state health officials advised against holding the state Republican Party’s convention this summer in Greenville and that Cooper’s administration is fighting a court decision to reopen bowling alleys amid the pandemic.

“Unlike many businesses that have spent months working with experts to safely resume operations during this pandemic, the NCBLE is proceeding with a plan that was, apparently, set into motion without input from NCDHHS until mere weeks ago,” the letter reads.

Shanahan wrote to the governor’s office seeking clarification on his latest executive order, which includes limits on mass gatherings.

CBS 17 has reached out to Cooper’s office but has not received a response.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley said last week the court does not have authority over the Board of Law Examiners.

Herrick said, “You know, I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to concerts or rallies or things like that, and this is a test where there’s really not much interaction except with the proctor.”

Prybol sought to be able to take the exam remotely, which is not being offered as an option.

Herrick said the board looked into that possibility but said there were concerns about people having a reliable Internet connection. She said during the in-person exam, tech support is available so if people do run into issue they can be resolved quickly.

She said people taking the exam remotely may encounter an issue that could not be fixed in time, leading a test taker to have to wait to retake the exam again.

“And the online option kind of has its own disadvantages we felt outweighed having the remote option,” Herrick said, adding that there’s a remote option being offered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners that would not be available until October. She said that exam will not be available in North Carolina.

On Monday, Georgia’s Supreme Court canceled its in-person bar exam scheduled for September because of public health concerns and scheduled an online version of the exam to take place in October.

Prybol said the NCBLE has agreed to make accommodations for her by allowing her to take the exam in a room separate from where hundreds of other people will gather. She said she’s still unsure precisely what those accommodations will entail. Herrick said they’ve made similar arrangements for about a dozen people taking the exam.

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