Virginia Gov. Northam Releases Draft Plan Allowing up to 5,000 People at Outdoor Graduations


Schools will be able to hold in-person graduations this year, according to a draft of preliminary guidance announced by Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday. Outdoor graduations can have the lesser of 5,000 people or 30 percent capacity, while indoor graduations can have the lesser of 500 people or 30 percent capacity.

“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,” the Governor said in a press release.

“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,” Northam said.

Northam expects to include the new guidance in an April update to Executive Order 72. Masks and social distancing will still be required, and although water can be provided, no food or drink sales will be allowed. The press release states that more than one million Virginians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The Commonwealth is on pace to have vaccine available to everyone who wants to get vaccinated by the beginning of May. The acceleration of the vaccine program and the decrease in new COVID-19 cases make it safer to ease restrictions on activities like in-person graduations,” the press release states.

The Fairfax Christian School President Jo Thoburn told The Virginia Star that the new standards are helpful.

“In 2020, we distributed diplomas at our baccalaureate service which followed the religious service guidelines,” she said. “The new graduation guidelines are very similar to the religious service guidelines which have been in place since last June. 30 percent or less capacity with 10 feet social distancing between groups.”

Thoburn said, “Graduation ceremonies are a celebration of years of achievement as childhood ends and students venture off into their adult lives.”

Northam’s press release also said Virginia’s schools are meeting his goals to expand in-person learning. Two-thirds of Virginia’s teachers are already vaccinated.

Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said in the press release, “Given the rapid progress we are making with vaccinating teachers and staff, and what we now know about how schools can operate safely with proper mitigation measures, I believe in-person instruction will be the norm in every Virginia school division this fall.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected]

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