Officials in Illinois issue guidance for school graduation ceremonies

Published: May. 3, 2020 at 12:32 AM CDT
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On Saturday, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) issued joint guidance

The outbreak of COVID-19 resulted in school building closures for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, and subsequently, questions have arisen related to school graduation ceremonies.

Officials said, "Decisions around whether or not to host safe and socially distanced graduation ceremonies will remain at the discretion of local school boards and superintendents. Districts and schools may choose to postpone graduation ceremonies, although it is not known when large-scale in-person events will be able to be safely held. Alternatively, districts and schools can choose to honor graduating students in a way that prioritizes the health and safety of participants and complies with state and local social distancing orders and guidelines."

Officials said they recognize the milestone that graduation ceremonies represent in the lives of students and families, and that the ISBE and IDPH are providing the guidance for public school districts, as well as public and nonpublic schools to consider when addressing their concerns at the local level.

Officials suggested non-traditional ceremonies, including, but not limited to: holding an online virtual ceremony, submitting videos, and highlighting graduates on social media.

They also suggested in-person graduation ceremonies that maintain social distancing guidelines such as: drive-in ceremonies with students and only their immediate family, where students could exit cars individually in their cap and gown, if available, to have photos taken while maintaining social distancing. Other suggested options were drive-through ceremonies, individualized ceremonies at school where students may come at prearranged times to walk across a stage, and individualized ceremonies where school officials could visit each graduate's home, while remaining outside and at least six feet away, and take photos of each graduate in their cap and gown.

IDPH and ISBE said if drive-in, drive-through, or individualized ceremonies are held, the following recommendations must be employed as appropriate:

1. Districts and schools should, if possible, ensure students receive diplomas and caps and gowns in advance through the mail or delivery so they can arrive dressed and with their diplomas in hand. Students or families may also collect these items at the school during packet pick-up, meal distribution, or locker clean-out. Please ensure social distancing guidelines are followed. 2. There may be no person-to-person contact during the ceremony. Individuals may not hand students diplomas, or any other items, or shake graduates’ hands. 3. Mark the standing locations of graduates waiting in line to collect their diplomas to ensure students remain at least six feet apart at all times and mark safe walking pathways for students exiting cars. 4. Clearly communicate expectations and procedures related to photography. Districts and schools should provide someone to take multiple pictures of all individual graduates and provide the photos free of charge to families in order to reduce concern of missing these important moments. Please ensure students and families are aware of photography policies. 5. Students may walk across a stage or area and pose for a picture individually. 6. Anyone outside of their car must wear a mask or face covering. Individual students may remove their masks or face coverings while having their individual photo taken by the district or school. Only staff and a limited number of students may be outside of their cars. 7. Consider available space in order to calculate capacity and determine the number of ceremonies needed. Consider limiting attendance and broadcasting the ceremony via a livestream platform and recording the ceremony to provide access to those not in attendance. 8. Consider the timing of when ceremonies take place. For individuals outside of their cars, consider weather conditions, such as sun exposure, heat, and rain. Take appropriate precautions related to weather protection. Consider if cars need to be turned off during the ceremony. Only staff and a limited number of students may be outside of their cars. 9. There should be no restroom access or refreshments to prevent areas of congregation and additional areas to monitor. Students and families should be advised in advance that restroom facilities and refreshments will not be available. 10. Ensure that facilities are accessible to persons with disabilities and provide all necessary accommodations for students with special needs. 11. Set expectations, policies, and guidelines in advance, and reiterate those before the ceremony day and at the start of the ceremony, to ensure overall health and safety.

IDPH and ISBE said districts should consult with local public health departments, law enforcement, and legal counsel when planning any in-person events.

"We congratulate all the graduates and their families and wish everyone the best for safe, healthy and happy graduation ceremonies," said IDPH and ISBE in their joint release.