EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. – El Paso County Commissioners unanimously approved a variance request for high school graduations.

El Paso County Public Health and local schools partnered to find an innovative solution to celebrate high school graduations while putting measures in place to keep everyone safe. The plan, which will be submitted to the Governor’s Office for approval, is based on guidance that has been created and reviewed by Public Health and hospital experts.

With extensive medical and subject matter expertise, Public Health created guidance for Superintendents to be able to plan graduation ceremonies for the 2019-2020 school year. This guidance will allow schools, students, families, and the wider community to celebrate the accomplishments of graduates in a medically sound way that limits the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. Ceremony plans will be evaluated based on several criteria for approval by El Paso County Public Health.

“The Pikes Peak Area Superintendents appreciate the work and partnership of El Paso County Public Health in creating guidelines for graduation ceremonies that will allow us to honor the Class of 2020 in a safe, consistent manner,” said Walt Cooper, Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 Superintendent. “School district leadership maintained frequent communication with Public Health, discussing the dilemma of cancelling graduation ceremonies for a senior class that has worked hard to get to this point in their lives. Public Health took our concerns to heart and developed guidelines that will keep students safe, while allowing us to honor seniors with some sort of in-person ceremony.”

Each school or district must submit a written plan to Public Health at least three weeks prior to the proposed ceremony. Written plans submitted by a school district or school must address the following guidelines:

  • Ceremonies should be held in a staggered manner as late into the spring or summer as possible to allow for the evaluation of current loosening of social distancing policies.
  • Written plans must include a fully virtual option in the event incoming data contraindicates hosting in-person ceremonies.
  • Ceremonies must be held outside with weather contingency plans of transition to virtual-only or tents. Indoor ceremonies are prohibited.
  • Ceremonies must be STUDENT ONLY with minimal staff required to manage students and flow of ceremonies.
  • All students and staff must meet six-foot social distancing at all times, including when entering and exiting the ceremony.
  • If outside facilities cannot accommodate the six-foot distancing, ceremonies must be held in the number of shifts necessary to allow for such distancing.
  • No parents, guests, or observers are allowed on-site. Ceremonies may be broadcast electronically for all viewers.
  • No associated social gatherings of students or staff are permitted at ceremony facilities prior to or following the ceremony.
  • All students and staff must wear cloth face coverings over the nose and mouth at all times, with the exception of individual photographs by an official photographer while social distancing from others.
  • A no-touch or no-contact procedure for receipt of the diploma must be implemented, such as presentation on a table by staff to be picked up by the student.
  • A permission slip or behavior contract must be signed by students and parents concerning risk mitigation. It must include a health screening survey that is completed the day of the ceremony and prior to entry, to include questions about fever, cough, congestion, chills, or other symptoms exhibited by the student or others in the household in the previous 14 days, with any positive answers resulting in exclusion of the student from participation in the ceremony.
  • Proposals to address students with special needs or who may require assistance must be included.
  • An inclusionary plan must be developed for families or students not wishing or not able to participate in person.

“Public Health is proud of the efforts to put in place safe processes that will allow us to celebrate this important milestone in the lives of our youth,” said Susan Wheelan, El Paso County Public Health Director. “We value the partnership with our local schools and appreciate the flexibility in working together to identify creative solutions that are grounded in sound medical judgment.”

Public Health will continue to monitor health care system capacity, testing capacity and disease spread in El Paso County in the days and weeks leading up to graduation ceremony dates. Public Health may require any school to implement its virtual-only alternative with at least one week’s written notice should it determine that community conditions no longer support holding an in-person ceremony.

“We know these guidelines must be approved by the State of Colorado and the Governor’s Office before we can implement them. In the meantime, we are proud of this partnership that benefits local students and families,” added Cooper.