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Hawaii public schools allowed to hold graduations in 2021 with strict protocols

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Graduation ceremonies may be held at Hawaii public schools this year under strict safety guidelines that include limits on the number of guests and no physical contact during the celebration.

The guidelines issued by the Department of Education today specify that ceremonies must be held outdoors or in a location with sufficient ventilation. Graduates may bring no more than two members of their household and no other guests will be allowed.

Depending on their size and circumstances, some schools may limit their commencement ceremonies to just the graduates and school staff, with parents and guests attending virtually.

“It is a delicate balance between honoring our graduates and ensuring we do not unintentionally create situations where COVID-19 transmission is likely to occur,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto wrote in a memo to principals today. “Limited in-person ceremonies will be required to follow strict parameters and some schools may not be able to coordinate an in-person event due to class size, limited resources and/or community transmission considerations.”

Participants must follow safety protocols, including physical distancing and no personal contact, including hugs, during the celebration. Groups may not congregate before or after the ceremony.

“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,” Kishimoto said.

High schools with large populations, where an in-person event would be challenging, could consider drive-thru or drive-in options, or a blend in-person and virtual ceremonies.

On Jan. 11, the Department of Education announced that all large, in-person social gatherings were cancelled for the rest of the academic year, but commencement ceremonies were not included in that. The new guidelines for graduation were developed in concert with state and county leaders and school staff.

“Our school leaders have shown they are able to implement and enforce the protocols that have kept our staff and students safe,” Kishimoto said. “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.”

The memo and guidelines are available online.

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