The Hawaii Department of Education released safety guidelines Wednesday for in-person graduation ceremonies, as commencement season approaches.

The DOE is requiring that all graduation participants and their guests wear masks at all times; that attendees be vaccinated or show a negative Covid-19 test taken 48 hours within the ceremony; and that graduates invite no more than a set number of guests, to be determined by each school.

The guidelines also require that in-person ceremonies be held outdoors or in areas with proper ventilation or fans. Many high schools hold their ceremonies in their athletic fields, while some larger Oahu schools choose venues like Blaisdell Center.

The Hawaii DOE’s guidance for in-person graduation this spring requires mask-wearing and proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test, taken within 48 hours of the event. Courtesy: Helen Perreira/2021

While urging schools to consider providing a virtual option for students who do not want to attend in-person or drive-through ceremonies, interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi — a former principal at Waipahu High — acknowledged the importance of modifications.

“Graduations are such a special milestone for our students and families, especially in Hawaii, and I know it has been difficult having modified ceremonies for the past two years,” he said in a statement.

“Planning for ceremonies must balance the desire to honor graduates while ensuring that our schools do not create an added risk of exposure and spread of the virus.”

The safety guidelines come as Covid-19 case numbers have dropped dramatically in the state as the omicron variant recedes. But the guidelines are a stark reminder that the pandemic continues and normal procedures must be adjusted.

Wednesday’s guidelines had echoes of graduation guidance released the same time last year, as the DOE permitted limited in-person ceremonies, but urged spacing of 6 feet between attendees and a guest count of only two per household.

Exact graduation dates will be released in April, and Hayashi said the guidance is subject to change in case of any new Covid developments.

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