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Schools might hold graduation ceremonies this year

It sounds like high schools will be reopening fully in a few weeks, but what about graduation? Will there be ceremonies this year? And if so, what will they look like?

The SYA news desk reached out to Medford School District spokeswoman Natalie Hurd and she said the latest guidance from the state allows for the district to hold an in-person ceremony to “some extent,” but since it’s spring break, details likely won’t be available until next week at the earliest.

The Oregon Department of Education did release some graduation-specific guidance recently and tacked it onto its Ready Schools, Safe Learners document. The three-page update touches on all graduation-related activities and celebrations, including baccalaureate events, senior prom, senior trips, senior breakfasts, culturally specific events, assemblies and the graduation ceremony itself.

The new guidance, released March 19, prioritizes the health and safety of the participants of those celebrations: “Districts must follow the sector-specific guidance based on the Sector Risk Categories of their county, regardless of whether ceremonies and activities are held indoors or outdoors. OHA and ODE recommend that activities and ceremonies be held in outdoor spaces to the maximum extent possible.”

Because Jackson County is currently classified as a “high risk” county, local school districts that choose to hold an outdoor ceremony must adhere to the guidance for “outdoor entertainment establishments” in high-risk counties, while local districts that opt for an indoor ceremony must follow the guidance for “indoor entertainment establishments” in high-risk counties.

For outdoor entertainment establishments, the guidance is pretty simple: maximum 15% occupancy and an 11 p.m. closing time. Indoor entertainment establishments are limited to 25% occupancy or 50 people total (whichever number is smaller) and the same 11 p.m. closing time.

If South Medford High decided to hold its graduation ceremony at Spiegelberg Stadium (capacity: 9,250), for instance, a maximum of 1,387 people – everybody is included in this, from staff to the graduates themselves – would be allowed in the stadium.

Of course, all that would change if Jackson County moves up or down that all-important sector risk level guidance chart, whose color-coded rating system is tied to COVID-19 test positivity rates and caseloads.

The graduation ceremony guidance also includes a page of recommended safety precautions and another page of examples and brief descriptions of year-end celebrations and ceremonies. Those include a virtual ceremony, sports field or park ceremony, drive-in ceremony, drive-through ceremony, parades and an individualized ceremony at school.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.