NC bar exam to be held in-person despite coronavirus health concerns

Alyssa Lukpat
·5 min read

About 750 people are expected to sit for the North Carolina bar exam in Raleigh next month despite calls to move the test online as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to climb in the state.

Law school graduates must take the exam in person July 28 and 29 unless they decide to wait for the next test in February 2021, according to the N.C. Board of Law Examiners, which administers the exam.

For Britni Prybol of Raleigh, the in-person test is one more thing to stress about as she studies for the exam. The 33-year-old mother graduated from law school at Campbell University last month while receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer.

“If I’m not going anywhere, (not) even sending my child to camps this summer, it’s unfair to ask me, after everything I’ve been through, to come sit through this bar when more reasonable accommodations exist,” Prybol said. “There’s no possible way for them to administer the bar safely.”

Indiana, Michigan and Nevada are offering the test online next month, and some states, including California and New York, are postponing the exam to September. Utah and Washington are allowing law school graduates to become lawyers this year without taking the bar.

Indoor gatherings larger than 10 people are currently banned under Phase 2 of North Carolina’s “safer-at-home” order. Almost 53,000 people in North Carolina have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, The News & Observer reported Monday. The state reached a one-day hospitalization high of 883 people Saturday.

Masks, social distancing required

The NCBLE said North Carolina test takers will be required to wear a mask and sit six-feet apart at two Raleigh locations: the North Carolina State Fairgrounds and N.C. State University. Test takers who need special accommodations will be in a separate building.

Some law school graduates, including Prybol, say they need to take the July bar to start their jobs in the fall. Aaron Ellis of Leland in Brunswick County said he can’t wait until February because he needs to buy food and pay off his law-school loans.

“I’m forced to decide between the physical well-being of my family and the financial well-being of my family, all because there seems to be huge hesitation to adapt with the times from the Board of Law Examiners,” said Ellis, whose son has a kidney condition.

The NCBLE said it will use bigger testing rooms than usual but that the exam must be in person to maintain the integrity of the test.

“The issue with giving it remotely is there is a lot of security for the exam. We have to be really careful with professional licensing tests,” said Kimberly Herrick, the chair of the NCBLE. “The main concern is getting everybody in and out, and we’ve been working really hard on how to do that with minimal contact.”

Test takers must agree by showing up to the exam to not sue the NCBLE if they contract COVID-19 because of the test. Anyone who shows COVID-19 symptoms during the exam will be moved to an isolated room and can come back for the February test without paying an extra fee, Herrick said.

Applications to take the July bar were due last month, but the NCBLE said test takers can transfer their $1,250 fee to the February 2021 bar free of charge.

Other testing agencies are changing their procedures because of the pandemic. The Association of American Medical Colleges is shortening the MCAT, the medical school admission test, through September and offering three additional test dates. People taking the North Carolina CPA exams for accountants have more time to schedule and take the tests. Educational Testing Service is offering the GRE at home.

Browne C. Lewis, the dean of the N.C. Central University School of Law, said she doesn’t think the exam should be held in person, but she understands that students need to take the exam to be employed.

“The level of stress that students experience will be escalated by having to take a bar exam while wearing masks and practicing social distancing,” Lewis said. “Because communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, students from those communities may face more challenges than their counterparts.”

An unnecessary health risk, some test takers say

Alyssa Riley of Raleigh, plans to take the bar exam in July. She questions the NCBLE saying it is holding the test in person for security reasons.

“I don’t know anyone that would risk their entire legal career after going to school and spending upwards of $200,000 to cheat on an exam and risk their whole future,” Riley said.

Riley’s brother-in-law died in Ohio in April of complications from the coronavirus. She doesn’t want to risk her or her fellow test takers’ health by taking the exam in person.

“I don’t expect people so educated to be so backward on things. I’m at a loss on how (the NCBLE) thinks this is safe,” Riley said. “I would love to know who in the science community they spoke to that gave the green light on this.”

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