Department of Education releases guidance for outdoor graduation ceremonies

DOVER — As many districts look to reinvent graduation — combining the personal with the virtual, or holding out hope for something more traditional — the Department of Education released guidance for honoring the class of 2020 that would allow for outdoor ceremonies.

The option for outdoor ceremonies comes with its own caveats. The outdoor ceremonies are made possible by the state entering into Phase One of recovery June 1. 

The rules address gathering size, social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting and signage. 

Released Tuesday, the requirements come as many Kent and Sussex districts and charters have already announced plans for how to honor their seniors, including events like accepting diplomas at Dover International Speedway, crossing the stage with small groups in drive-up celebrations or turning tassels completely virtually.

“This guidance does not account for every scenario and districts/charters are encouraged to reach out to [Secretary of Education Susan Bunting] for guidance while adapting current or creating new graduation plans,” the rules state.

Those holding ceremonies with more than 250 people must apply to host a large gathering or event by submitting a plan to Dr. Bunting seven days before the event is scheduled. Plan approval is subject to the discretion of DOE, in consultation with the Division of Public Health, according to the requirements.

Per DOE, if multiple ceremonies are being held, the staggered times must allow for a thorough cleaning that follows CDC guidelines.

Similarly, the department notes that arrival times for graduates should be staggered.

Social distancing is still in effect, too. For seating, members of the same household may sit together, but “there should be a six-foot radius around individual household units,” according to DOE. Standing along a fence or perimeter is not allowed. Six foot increments should be marked.

Music and singing are permitted, but social distancing guidelines should be followed. Choral groups and bands should not be utilized. 

District/charter leadership, speakers and singers addressing the graduates at a podium must social distance. Facemasks must be worn, aside from when the person is speaking/singing. Handheld microphones cannot be passed between speakers and should be sanitized between uses. 

Exchanging materials, like programs and diplomas, is discouraged. DOE advises school leadership mail the diplomas, or have them available on a table for pick up. DOE recommends programs be projected on a screen or offered online.  

Under the DOE guidelines, ceremonies must post signs at each public entrance that remind attendees to: stay away from the festivities if they have symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, high fever, shortness of breath) or have been exposed to someone who tested positive with COVID-19 recently; wear a facemask if over the age of 13; maintain physical distance by at least six feet from others; wash hands and use hand sanitizers frequently. 

Surfaces touched by graduates or participants — i.e., doors, seats, restrooms — are to be disinfected every 15 minutes to two hours, using an approved disinfectant. Hand sanitizer should be supplied at all entrances, including some for staff use only. Hand sanitizer should be utilized by school leadership “at frequent intervals during the ceremony, including at a minimum before contact with surfaces that will be touched by others,” the release states.

If restrooms cannot be cleaned per these requirements, school leadership should “communicate to attendees that no restrooms will be available on site and consider the duration of the ceremony accordingly.”