This spring, school and district leaders will need to make important decisions regarding their graduation ceremonies. Depending on where your district is located and the timing of the event, you may need to cancel or postpone commencement—or you may choose to hold a virtual event to avoid a large gathering.

For most districts in the United States, this decision will need to be made between late April and mid-May. This article offers some messages you may use to communicate with your students, staff, families and community members about the decision you’ve made, along with questions you should be prepared to answer.

Please note that the messages and guidance below pertain to graduation ceremonies. However, with a few adjustments, they may also be used for prom and other school-sanctioned events.

What to communicate now

Even if you have not yet decided to cancel the event, it’s still important to communicate with your stakeholders. Below are a few points you may want to touch on:

    • We are carefully monitoring the situation surrounding the coronavirus and taking guidance from the state Department of Health, the CDC and other agencies.
    • We do not yet know if our graduation commencement ceremony will be able to take place this spring.
    • We know this event is an important part of our students’ and families’ lives. We will explore all options to give you this experience.
    • If we do end up holding commencement, it will likely look a little different than in years past. We will keep you updated as we know more.

It’s a good idea to check in with students and families via email, social media, updates on your district website and an automated voice message to all parents and guardians of senior students.

If you need to cancel or postpone commencement

At this point, it appears a majority of high schools will end up canceling or postponing graduation and other events this spring. If that is the case for your school district, consider using some of the messages below to communicate with your stakeholders:

    • After much deliberation and considering a number of factors, we have decided to cancel/postpone our graduation ceremony this spring.
    • We have made this decision out of an abundance of caution to protect the safety and well-being of our students and families.
    • We know our students and families will be disappointed by this news. We share in your disappointment and are saddened to have to take this action.
    • We will continue to look for ways to celebrate with you, even though we will not be able to get together in person.

Once you make this announcement, be ready to field a good number of questions from your students, families and community members. These will likely include, but will not be limited to, the following:

    • Why did the district decide to cancel commencement?
    • Aren’t you overreacting?
    • Can the event still be held, but only with students and not their family members?
    • Will graduation be rescheduled for a later date?
    • Can the event be held virtually?

If commencement will proceed

In some parts of the country, it may be possible to hold an event like graduation. If that is the case for your school district, below are some key messages you can use:

    • After taking guidance from the Department of Health and CDC, we have determined it is safe to hold our graduation ceremony this school year.
    • We will act out of an abundance of caution to protect the safety and well-being of our students and families.
    • We will limit attendance to the event and enact strict social distancing. All students will wear masks and hand sanitizer will be available throughout the facility.
    • Our gymnasium/auditorium will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before and after the ceremony.

Deciding to hold graduation may cause some concern among students and families. The following are some questions you should be prepared to answer:

    • How did the district come to the conclusion that the event is safe?
    • How will you keep everyone safe at the event?
    • Is it OK for people over the age of 65 or who are immunocompromised to attend commencement?
    • Will there be an opportunity to take part in commencement virtually?
    • Should students and families quarantine themselves after taking part in graduation?

Celebrating the Class of 2020

As we view the current situation, the most likely scenario that most high school graduation ceremonies across the country will be canceled or postponed this school year. This decision, while necessary, will cause disappointment for seniors and their families.

Understanding this, the Storm Lake Community School District in western Iowa has led the way in celebrating graduates in alternative and creative ways. For example, the district created a social media template for each senior student. It includes a photo of when the student was young and a more recent photo—usually a senior portrait.

Over the past few weeks, the district has been sharing customized versions for each senior. This has been very special for the Class of 2020, who are still unsure whether they will be taking part in a true commencement ceremony.

Above all else, clear and proactive communication is key when it comes to upcoming events like graduation. You may not know for sure how the event will look, or if it will take place at all, but you can communicate now to make sure your students, staff and families are effectively updated and informed.

Learn more and find free templates for communicating about COVID-19 issues by visiting our Coronavirus Communications page. If you would like further guidance, please contact the Donovan Group.