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Schools to have option of in-person graduation ceremonies

Colleges and school divisions across the state will have the option to hold indoor or outdoor graduations, according to new guidance issued by Gov. Ralph Northam.

The preliminary guidance, issued March 17, will allow outdoor graduations to have 5,000 people, or 30% of the venue capacity, whichever is smaller. Indoor graduations can be held with up to 500 people, or 30% capacity, whichever is lower.

Everyone in attendance will be required to wear masks and follow other COVID-19 protocols, including social distancing.

“I appreciate the work that our schools, students, and teachers have put in to get back into the classroom safely, and the efforts of public health officials and education leaders in developing guidelines for safe graduations and commencements this spring,” Northam said in a statement. “We are releasing this guidance early to allow schools to begin planning for this year’s events. While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates, and their families.”

Last year, Suffolk Public Schools canceled its graduation ceremonies, but each of its three high schools held drive-through ceremonies to allow students to pick up their diplomas. It also recorded a virtual graduation ceremony for each school.

More than 2.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered, while 1.8 million people — 21.3% of the population — have received at least one dose, and roughly 50,000 doses per day are being administered across the state. More than two-thirds of public school teachers and staff have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to state officials.

The statewide seven-day positivity rate is 5.4%, while Suffolk’s is 8.6% as of March 17.

Most statewide school divisions have at least some students receiving in-person instruction after Northam’s directive in February calling for all 132 public school divisions to submit plans by mid-March to return students to classrooms. At that time, 25 school divisions, which represented more than one-third of the state’s students, had not put plans in place to return students to in-person learning.

All school divisions have currently submitted learning plans, and all still offer remote learning options.

Elementary students in Suffolk Public Schools who opted for the division’s hybrid plan began attending school in-person this week. The hybrid plan has students attending school twice per week, with students continuing with virtual learning on the remaining three days. Middle and high school students who elected for the hybrid option will begin returning to school twice per week March 22.