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Graduation Ceremony Guidance

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and safety of school community members continues to be a top priority. The Colorado Department of Education understands how incredibly disappointing it is to students, teachers and families to miss out on milestones like graduation ceremonies. Unfortunately, traditional graduation ceremonies will not be safe for some time. During the Safer at Home phase of the Governor's Executive Order, Public Health Order 20-28 (PDF), gatherings larger than 10 individuals are not permitted. The guidance offered here allows for discretion based on “best practice” and provides the “how to” in areas that are not in policy or law.  

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As you consider plans to recognize graduates, it is essential that schools collaborate with local public health agencies. Here are some things to keep in mind when planning for a different way to honor graduates.

  • Gatherings larger than 10 are not permitted.
  • Vulnerable individuals must remain at home.
  • Individuals who are sick must remain at home.
  • All participants should be screened for fever and symptoms before entering.
  • All participants, including graduates, administrators, guests or family members, must remain at least six feet apart at all times.
  • Mark 6 feet sections to help individuals understand what 6 feet looks like. You can use small flags, tape, balloons, etc. Indicate that people should stand on or by the markers and remain 6 feet from each other.
  • To comply with the six-foot spacing, handshaking and hugs should not occur.
  • If chairs are provided, they must be disinfected before and after use by school staff using proper protocol.
  • All participants must wear cloth face coverings at all times.
  • Ceremonies must be held outside.
  • Inside ceremonies cannot occur.
  • Diplomas, awards, medals, programs, etc. must not be handed from person to person.
  • Sharing or exchanging materials of any kind poses an increased risk for transmission/spread of COVID-19 and must not occur. (Throwing graduation caps, "Sign-in" practices, gifts, flowers, etc).

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We understand the importance of human connections, especially during these stressful times, and that sharing graduation ceremonies with community members adds meaning. Below are some ideas that may be feasible depending on your local context. All events must comply with state and local public health orders.

  • Many districts are doing virtual graduation ceremonies, in which the staff films the speeches, dedications and other festivities. Some include videos that students also submit.
    • For example, Westminster Public Schools will have two virtual graduations, one for each of its high schools. Speeches will be recorded remotely, names will be read and students will record themselves singing the national anthem. The district will put it all together into a video and stream it to families on the previously scheduled graduation date.
    • In addition, the district will do "moving up" parades for middle school students in which teachers and staff will drive by students' homes and perform a short "ceremony" in front of their house symbolizing the student moving on to high school or the next grade.
  • "Car Parades" in small communities with planning support from the local health department and police.
  • Video recordings of a live ceremony involving fewer than 10 graduates could be broadcast on local public access television, local radio or streamed for families on Facebook Live or YouTube.
  • Very small communities with only a few graduates may be able to hold ceremonies on football fields or other outdoor locations. Outdoor ceremonies with graduates marching but families watching in their cars and listening to the event via local radio.
  • Some districts have decided to delay their ceremonies. However, postponing ceremonies could be challenging because of the evolving nature of COVID-19. Postponement carries the risk that circumstances may be no different later in the year than now. Postponement could lead to additional disappointment should it be that mass gathering restrictions are still in place. Postponing also increases the chance of conflicting with post-graduation plans.

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Some schools and districts are focusing on how to celebrate graduating seniors.

Here are some examples:

  • Eagle County School District is working with the Vail Daily to help recognize seniors in the newspaper and will also recognize seniors on social media channels.
  • Denver School of Science & Technology asked students to submit their "announcement selfies" with pennants or signs with their future plans; then, if they want, students can tag DSST, and the school will post their information on social media.
  • Park County Schools hired a videographer to professionally record speeches and compile a graduation video. The district is hosting a car parade through town on the actual graduation day led by local law enforcement.
  • Weld County RE-4: Windsor High School will conduct a mobile procession for seniors that will include professional graduation photos of each graduate.
  • Broomfield High School in the Boulder Valley School District made yard signs with the names of each senior and placed them outside the school as a tribute.
  • Many schools across the state are making yard signs and posting those in students' front yards, including Legacy High School in Adams 12.

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In Colorado, local governments can choose to have different rules from the state in a few circumstances. Some districts are investigating options for graduation ceremonies through a variance.

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