A student in Maryland drives in a car parade to honor high school graduates. Many schools in other states have already held similar ceremonies to honor graduates. | AP
While traditional ceremonies won’t be allowed, the new guidelines have been eagerly awaited by families of the 25,000 high school seniors, 26,000 eighth graders and 24,000 kindergartners in the district.
Graduation ceremonies won’t look the same as usual this spring, but they don’t necessarily have to be on a laptop, either, according to new guidance released Wednesday by Chicago Public Schools.
After previously indicating only virtual ceremonies would be allowed, CPS officials now say drive-through graduations and celebrations featuring staff visits to graduates’ homes are OK as long as safety precautions are put in place and strictly followed.
CPS officials said they added drive-thru and home-visit ceremonies to the list of acceptable graduations because Illinois is anticipated to move into “Phase 3” of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan by the end of this month. Schools planning any non-virtual events will have to follow guidance released earlier this month by the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education.
For drive-up celebrations, students can ride with their immediate family living at home, and only the graduates can get out of the car in their cap and gown to have a photo taken as long as social distancing guidelines are followed, then leave immediately after they’re honored. Anyone who gets out of their car — including staff and a limited number of students at one time — has to wear a face mask.
“These events will require significant planning — including precise scheduling, traffic control, and school safety personnel — and may be appropriate for small to medium-sized graduating classes in less trafficked areas,” CPS said in its guidance. “Principals will need to carefully evaluate this option to determine if it is appropriate for their school community.”
Those ceremonies can be done at drive-in movie theaters, school parking lots, stadium parking lots or other large parking lot venues, state guidance said. Schools might have to hold multiple ceremonies if they have a large graduating class. No restroom access, refreshments or congregating should be allowed, the state said.
“Students and families without vehicles would need alternative accommodations and transportation that complies with social distancing requirements,” the state noted in its guidance.
If a drive-thru event isn’t a good choice for a school, administrators will also be allowed to visit students’ homes, while remaining outside and at least six feet away, to congratulate their students. Another option will be holding a fall or winter event for the Class of 2020 if state and local health guidelines allow gatherings by that time.
Virtual ceremonies can still be held on Google Meet and Zoom, with high school graduations coming on or after June 6, and eighth grade and kindergarten ceremonies on or after June 11. Advance hand-outs of diplomas, awards, caps and gowns can be done at schools as long as social distancing is followed and masks are worn, similar to the laptop distribution done the past month, the district said.
CPS has 25,000 high school seniors enrolled this year, 26,000 eighth graders and another 24,000 kindergartners.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot also announced last month that Oprah Winfrey would host a virtual graduation for high school seniors in mid-June.
The district and state said they still won’t allow regular in-person graduation ceremonies, group photos or small group celebrations where students meet at school or another location.