School officials say graduation set for all options — indoor, outdoor, livestream

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Cap and diploma

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, March 23Page County Public Schools has heard the pleas of parents and students, and the school division is going to great lengths to ensure that the Class of 2021 has a memorable graduation experience.

On Monday night, assistant superintendent Eric Benson gave a presentation to members of the Page County School Board that thoroughly outlined the options and contingencies that school administrators are planning for on Saturday, May 22. However, seniors and their parents may not know which option the two county high schools will implement until Friday, May 21.

In an effort to cover every possible scenario, Benson explained that plans are being made for both an indoor and outdoor in-person graduation ceremony at both Luray and Page County high schools. In addition, the video production services of Charles King will again be contracted by the school system to provide a livestream of both graduation ceremonies.

Last Wednesday, Governor Ralph Northam responded to Virginia’s 132 school superintendents who were seeking guidance for graduation ceremonies. Northam released preliminary guidance for how K-12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, may safely hold in-person graduation and commencement events this spring. These tentative plans have been reviewed with education officials and are expected to be included in an April 1 update to Third Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two. Those guidelines can be found here

“We are releasing this guidance early to allow schools to begin planning for this year’s events,” Northam said. “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.” 

After last week’s announcement, school officials quickly began sorting through new state guidelines, which limit indoor crowds to 30 percent of the venue’s capacity, or 500 attendees, whichever is less. That’s double the 250 attendees that school officials previously thought would be allowed, but outdoor venues — by stretching out the available space — can accommodate even more.

“Square footage matters,” Benson told the school board.

The graduation guidelines differ from other events, as “celebratory” events such as prom are not allowed, while “educational” or education-related events are allowed under a long list of regulations. Special guidelines are being drawn up for graduations. Most of those regulations deal with social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols.

When members of the Class of 2021 practice for their graduation ceremonies in the coming weeks, they will receive two sets of color-coded tickets, according to Benson — five tickets for indoors, and 10 tickets for outdoors. Here’s a breakdown of the two scenarios for Graduation Day – Saturday, May 22:


School officials used Google Maps to layout outdoor areas large enough at each high school to allow for 10 feet of distance between “pods” of attendees for each graduate. After calculating the square footage, it was determined that 1,667 people could attend each graduation ceremony. With 126 graduates at LHS and 147 at PCHS, an outdoor ceremony will allow each high school senior to be allotted 10 tickets to the May 22 ceremony. That allows for graduates, teachers, administrators and other speakers to attend as well before hitting the attendance ceiling.

Benson noted that signage will be important at the outdoor events, as crowds will be directed where to enter and where to exit. They will also be reminded to wear masks, which will be mandatory. No food or beverage will be allowed, and no loitering will be allowed before or after the ceremonies. Attendees will be asked to bring their own lawn chairs to graduation, and they will be clustered in 10-person pods representing the 10 tickets each graduate will be given. Those pods will be spaced 10 feet apart.

Graduates will be spaced six feet apart at the ceremonies to cut down on the overall area needed to hold the event (as opposed to 10 feet).

Currently, the PCHS ceremony is planned for the football field and will include the school band and choir, which is traditional for the ceremony. LHS is looking to have its ceremony in front of the school building rather than Bulldog Field and does not plan to include musical performances due to additional COVID requirements on vocal and musical performers (due to the greater potential of saliva spreading).


The key reason for offering an indoor option is due to inclement weather. That’s why seniors and their parents may not know where to go for graduation until the day before.

“In case of inclement weather, we wanted to have another option,” Benson said. “So we will make a decision on Friday, May 21 based on the forecast.”

The key difference in moving the ceremonies indoors is that it cuts down the allowed attendance dramatically. With a capacity of 1,500 in each high school gymnasium, that equates to an allowable attendance of 450 (30 percent).

If the ceremonies move indoors, the current plan is to break up each graduating class into two groups (based on the first letter of their last name). LHS would hold ceremonies at 9 a.m. and again at 11 a.m., while PCHS would also do two shifts at 3 and 5 p.m. Speakers would deliver their speeches twice, and time would be allowed for some cleaning between ceremonies.

The indoor scenario — even with two separate ceremonies — would cut each senior’s ticket allotment down to five. School officials have identified 75 pods spread out among the bleachers where groups of five attendees could sit.

Benson also stated that attendance by school faculty and staff may be limited in an indoor scenario in order to preserve more space for parents and family to attend.


A livestream of graduation ceremonies at both high schools — indoors or outdoors — will be provided by Charles King, who the schools contracted at a cost of $10,000. The livestream will be available on the Page County Public Schools YouTube channel. It can be viewed live, or at a later time. While some portions may be pre-recorded, individual diploma presentations will not.

For more information about the May 22 graduation ceremonies, watch the Page County Public Schools website for future news releases and further information as Graduation Day approaches.



Governor announces limited capacity increases for indoor and outdoor gatherings

Governor announces draft plan for safe in-person graduations and commencements

Some high school students will return to class March 8; seniors may get in-person graduation

LFCC virtual information session for parents and supporters March 10

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