High school seniors have missed out on many rites of passage since the coronavirus pandemic began.

However, students will be able to collect their diplomas during in-person commencement ceremonies this year as long as they are well ventilated and adhere to strict safety protocols, the state Department of Education said Thursday.

“They will not look like pre-pandemic celebrations, but they will allow additional flexibility for our schools beyond purely virtual options in bringing our graduates together for this momentous occasion,” school Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a memo.

The pandemic forced school graduations to go virtual in 2020. Allan Parachini/Civil Beat/2020

The announcement came about a month after Hawaii seniors received disappointing news that in-person proms, May Day events and senior banquets of more than 20 people could not proceed this year to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Kishimoto said the graduations, which typically happen in late May, must be held outdoors or in places with “adequate ventilation.”

Other conditions included maintaining a 6-foot distance between participants and guests “to the greatest extent possible,” wearing masks except when taking photos or for a “mask break,” enlisting security or other school staff to control crowd sizes, and prohibiting live singing and wind instruments.

The memo also said the guest count must be limited to two per household not including the graduate, and masks, gloves, face shields and other protective equipment must be provided to staff.

However, other common COVID-19 screening measures like temperature checks will not be mandatory because they “will not detect someone who is asymptomatic and positive with COVID-19,” stated the memo.

Student participation at a live, in-person event will be voluntary, it added.

Some schools may not be able to hold full in-person ceremonies due to large class size, limited resources or a high rate of community transmission in that geographic region, Kishimoto said. In those instances, she encouraged staggered ceremonies, drive-in ceremonies or even in-person ceremonies for students only, with guests tuning in virtually.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that we approach graduation season in a safe manner that does not prolong or hinder the state’s efforts to respond to this pandemic,” she wrote.

She added that the guidance is subject to change in light of any “sudden developments that would compromise the safety of our students and staff.”

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