DOE sets guidelines for in-person graduation celebrations

  • Alex Muti gets his photo taken at Konawaena High School's drive-through graduation in May. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

The state Department of Education on Thursday released guidelines to allow for limited, in-person school commencement and transition ceremonies that ensure the health and safety of students, staff and families.

The DOE announced in January the cancellation of all large, in-person social gatherings for the remainder of the school year.

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Commencement ceremonies were excluded from that announcement while the department collaborated with partner agencies, Gov. David Ige’s office, county mayors and schools on safe and viable in-person and virtual options to honor and celebrate the graduating class of 2021.

“Our school leaders have shown they are able to implement and enforce the protocols that have kept our staff and students safe. While we cannot prevent exposure to COVID-19, the department has systems in place to immediately address cases and has avoided transmission of the virus at HIDOE facilities to date,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a news release. “While the allowable modified ceremonies will not look like pre-pandemic celebrations, they will allow additional flexibility for our schools beyond virtual options in bringing our graduates together for this momentous occasion.”

In addition to standard school health and safety protocols, commencement ceremonies must be held outdoors or in a venue with adequate ventilation. Third-party venues are allowed.

Graduates also will be allowed to bring a maximum of two members from their household. No additional guests will be allowed. Schools also have the authority to reduce this number based on venue restrictions and ceremony formats.

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Among other guidelines, school staff, security personnel and/or off-duty law enforcement support must be used to break up groups congregating at the event site before and after the ceremony; in-person performances that include singing or wind instruments are not permitted; and student participation is voluntary.

Larger schools that may experience difficulties in hosting a safe, in-person ceremony are encouraged to consider alternative options such as a blend of in-person and virtual ceremonies, staggered drive-through ceremonies, or drive-in formats.

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