Drive-in, drive-thru graduation ceremonies now allowed

Illinois Capitol News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — After initially banning all in-person graduation ceremonies, the State Board of Education softened its stance on Saturday night, releasing new guidelines to allow school districts to hold drive-in and drive-through ceremonies under strict social distancing restrictions.

In a new set of rules published by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education, the state strongly encouraged schools to celebrate with “virtual ceremonies,” but also offered a variety of alternative options to help students and faculty navigate the ongoing public health threat posed by the highly contagious Coronavirus.

The state graduation guidelines are posted below:

Virtual Ceremonies

Districts and schools can honor graduating students virtually. Examples include:

• Virtual ceremonies: Schools can hold an online virtual ceremony similar to traditional
graduation ceremonies in terms of commencement speakers and any acknowledgements
of awardees. Viewing information can be disseminated to the graduates and their
families.
• Videos: Ask graduates to send individual videos with short messages to their graduating
classmates. This, with recorded speeches by invited speakers, creates a longer film
highlighting the graduates’ school experiences and provides a long-term memento.
• Social Media: Highlight graduates on social media each day with special hashtags that
allow for family, friends, and community members to congratulate individual students
(who agree to participate) with photos and messages.

Ceremonies that Maintain Social Distancing Guidance

Virtual events are strongly encouraged, although we recognize this may not be possible in all
situations. Allowable in-person graduation events include:

• Drive-in: Students, and only their immediate family members who are staying at home
together, should arrive and remain in cars for the entire ceremony. Before or after the ceremony, students may exit their cars individually, in their cap and gown if available, to have photos taken so long as social distancing requirements are followed. These ceremonies can be done at drive-in movie theaters, school parking lots, stadium parking lots, or other large parking lot venues that could be exclusively used for the graduation event. Multiple ceremonies may be needed depending on the class size. Large projected screens and sound equipment may be required. Students and families without vehicles would need alternative accommodations and transportation that complies with social distancing requirements.

• Drive-through: Students, and only their immediate family members who are staying at
home together, should arrive in waves and leave after their individual recognition. Students may exit the car individually, in their cap and gown if available, to have a photo taken. These events will require precise scheduling, traffic control, and school safety personnel, etc. and may be appropriate for small to medium-sized graduating classes in less trafficked areas.

• Individualized Ceremony at School: Individual students may come to the school at prearranged times to walk across a stage in their cap and gown and have a photo taken. This may also be coordinated with time for students to pick up any personal belongings at the school. All efforts must be made to ensure social distancing and prevent mass gatherings of people.

• Individualized Ceremony: Visit each graduate’s home, while remaining outside and at
least six feet away, to congratulate and take photos of each graduate in their cap and
gown and holding their diploma. This type of recognition may need to be conducted over
the course of several days depending on the class size.

The recommendations below must be employed, as appropriate, if drive-in, drive-through, or
individualized ceremonies will be held.

  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.

Districts should consult with local public health departments, law enforcement, and legal counsel in planning any in-person events.

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