After a tumultuous year of distanced learning and lost milestones, the Class of 2021 can look forward to next-to-normal commencement ceremonies following the release of new guidelines from the California Department of Public Health.
All commencement ceremonies will adhere to the state’s existing guidance for outdoor seated events and for gatherings. Attendees will be asked to wear masks, limit groups to a single household unit and maintain six feet of distance from people outside of their household. Unfortunately, this means no hugs and handshakes for the new graduates.
“To comply with the six-foot spacing, handshaking and hugs should not occur,” the guidance states. “Graduates may be invited to walk across the stage individually and turn their tassel in lieu of receiving the diploma. Alternatively, diplomas and awards could be distributed if bestowing the awards and diplomas is done in a manner that reduces contact (e.g., placing each diploma and award on a table as the graduate walks by to retrieve it). Or, hand hygiene should be performed before and after touching objects and should be available in the appropriate locations.”
If multiple ceremonies are planned for a single day, schools must allow for at least two hours between ceremonies to prevent mixing groups. Attendees must also pre-register to attend graduation ceremonies.
“Staff or attendants must monitor the number of attendees entering the graduation event and confirm that they had pre-registered,” according to the CDPH.
The new rules apply to all California counties but will be tweaked by local health officials to fit the county’s current COVID-19 restrictions.
Humboldt County Public Health denied the Times-Standard’s request for further comment on the new guidance from the CDPH, although one local superintendent said his district was working with Public Health and another said the health officer provided guidance to local school administrators.
“School administrators and commencement organizers must identify and monitor the county risk level for the county the school is operating in and make required adjustments to their commencement ceremony just as families must adjust their private celebrations,” according to the CDPH website. “Please note that local health departments can have more restrictive criteria and different closures.”
Eureka City Schools Superintendent Fred Van Vleck called the announcement “fantastic news for the Class of 2021.”
“For the class of 2020, I was both the superintendent and the father of a graduate,” Van Vleck told the Times-Standard on Monday morning. “I was personally impacted as a father and I understand the impact that not having a traditional graduation ceremony had on the class of 2020. I remain optimistic and hopeful given these new guidelines that we will not have to follow that same path and I think that’s tremendous progress.”
The good news is, Humboldt County schools will not be restricted to drive-thru graduation ceremonies like last year, Van Vleck said.
“I think things are going to continue to change between now and when our ceremonies happen,” Van Vleck said, referring to increased vaccination efforts and a hopeful shift to a less restrictive tier. “There are some decisions we’re going to have to make, for instance, are we going to do promotional ceremonies for our fifth-grade classes and promotional ceremonies for our eighth-grade classes in public? Certainly, we’re going to do something with the high school and we will do something in those other grade levels but it is yet to be seen exactly what that will look like.”
Northern Humboldt Unified School District Superintendent Roger MacDonald said his district has worked on its commencement plan alongside Humboldt County Public Health for several weeks.
“We’ve already been planning for graduation,” MacDonald told the Times-Standard on Monday afternoon. “We want to make sure that we have something pretty rock solid to share with our families before announce our plans but we’re close.”
Looking back at the last year, MacDonald said his district did the best it could with the drive-thru gradation but looks forward to an in-person ceremony.
“I think everybody that attended last year’s graduation was surprised about how cool the event was. The graduations at all of our schools were really, really well done and well organized,” MacDonald said. “We learned a lot putting on that virtual graduation with the drive-thru diploma pickup and some of those elements will come into play moving forward so that we can make sure that everybody has an opportunity to experience it.”
“I feel great. I feel great that our kids are going to have an opportunity to have a graduation. I also want to make sure that we were cautious and that we do it safely so that we don’t contribute to any negative health consequences,” MacDonald added.
Both districts will provide virtual access to their ceremonies a well.
Humboldt State University said this spring’s graduation ceremony “will look different from ceremonies in previous years” but will try to strike a balance between health safety and tradition.
“In order to host this event in-person for students while meeting state and county guidelines, HSU will not be able to allow spectators at the event,” according to a Monday press statement from the university. “…While family and friends are an important part of students’ celebration plans, participation will be limited to students, faculty, and the staff running the event … It’s important to follow guidelines to reduce risk by limiting the number of people in Redwood Bowl.”
Graduates must register by April 21 to participate in its commencement ceremonies on May 14 and 15.
HSU said it will share a live stream of each graduation ceremony for family and friends who cannot attend.
“The safety of our Lumberjack community and their families is a priority. All plans depend on approval by state and county public health officials and are subject to change based on the status of the pandemic,” the statement said.