RALEIGH — North Carolina high school graduations could turn into drive-in ceremonies or individualized events this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a memo, the N.C, Department of Public Instruction told high schools that graduation ceremonies must keep people at least 6 feet apart and limit gatherings to no more than 10 people. This will require creative planning to hold the graduations or lead to alternatives such as virtual ceremonies or moving them to a later date when the pandemic has eased.
“High school graduation is an important milestone,” the DPI says in the memo. “Districts and schools are urged to engage families, local public health officials, and local board attorneys as ceremonies are planned.
“Social distancing and mass gathering requirements issued through North Carolina Executive Order and reinforced by public health officials must be integrated into plans and enforced to protect the health and safety of students, families, staff, and the public.”
Wake County school administrators said Tuesday they’re weighing the different options as they talk with principals, parents and seniors. Brian Pittman, Wake’s senior director of high school programs, said the goal is to have a final decision within the next week on how graduations and senior awards day will be held this year.
“We honor that families and students have spent many years preparing for the accomplishment of graduating from high school,” Pittman said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “We know that we owe them enough time to prepare for that celebration of their accomplishment as well.”
COVID-19 changes graduation plans
The traditional pomp and circumstance of high school graduations ceremonies is becoming less of an option this year due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Schools throughout the state are exploring how to honor their seniors amid the pandemic.
In the memo, the DPI lists different options:
- Drive-in ceremonies where families stay in their vehicle until it’s time for the graduate to exit to collect their diploma. Locations such as movie drive-ins and large parking lots in malls are suggested.
- Drive-through events where at the end of ceremony the graduate could drive through to get their diploma.
- Individualized ceremony where seniors come into the building at a scheduled time while maintaining the 10-person gathering limit.
Hybrid/video ceremony where schools use one of the strategies above while also recording graduates receiving diplomas. The video is spliced and the entire graduation is provided on-demand or aired at a predetermined time.
The DPI lists other strategies such as creating a memento video with speeches and messages from students, highlighting seniors on social media, holding a graduation parade or putting up yard signs. Another option is to postpone the graduation until later or hold them a year from now and call them an “early reunion.”
Safety measures needed for ceremonies
The DPI says schools must consider necessary safety measures such as prohibiting COVID-19 positive people from attending. Schools should also consider whether face masks will be required.
Similar drive-in options have been held for events such as outdoor church services as a way to try to comply with the statewide stay-at-home order.
Gov. Roy Cooper has announced that he will allow the state to move into phase one of lifting statewide restrictions on Friday. But outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people are still not allowed.
The first group of graduations for Wake’s 34 high schools is in May, with most scheduled for June 10-13. Pittman said they’ve looked into holding July and August graduations but they can only push them back so far and still be feasible.
“The reality is that our commencement activities likely will not be in the same format and timing than they have traditionally been in the past,” Pittman said. “But make no mistake, we are committed as a district to celebrating these seniors and their accomplishments.”