Parking lots, football stadiums and athletic fields will serve as graduation venues this spring as school districts adapt to ever-evolving pandemic limitations.
Several suburban schools are preparing for drive-in or in-person ceremonies with social distancing and other safety precautions -- a welcome shift from mostly virtual and drive-by ceremonies forced into use last school year in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many others still are formulating plans to comply with new health guidelines, which eased this week with state officials revising requirements for in-person learning aimed at encouraging a return to classrooms.
Face coverings still are required, but social distancing rules have been relaxed from 6 feet to 3 feet for students and fully vaccinated school employees, according to the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health.
"Decisions regarding whether to host safe and socially distanced events outside of school, such as open houses, registration, prom, graduation ceremonies, and other extracurricular events, will remain at the discretion of local school boards and superintendents in consultation with local public health departments," IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.
Schools can hold in-person events, indoors or outdoors, in compliance with health guidelines for the use of face masks, capacity limits, social distancing, contact tracing, increased cleaning and disinfection, and limits on gatherings and seating, she added.
Glenbrook District 225 is taking a more intimate approach with smaller graduation events to accommodate safety concerns.
"At this time, given the gathering size limitations, it is not reasonable to plan for one large gathering with the entire graduating class at one time," said district spokeswoman Christina Salonikas.
Glenbrook North and South high schools' graduations will be held June 6 on campus. Officials are exploring various options for smaller ceremonies "giving each student an opportunity to walk across a stage and receive a diploma," Salonikas said.
Planning is underway for in-person, outdoor ceremonies, at several other suburban districts, including Northwest Suburban High School District 214, Maine Township High School District 207, Indian Prairie Unit District 204, and St. Charles Unit District 303.
Maine East, South and West high schools' graduations will be May 22, at the school's football stadium or field, and the ceremonies will be livestreamed and recorded. District 204's graduations have been at the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center for years, but will move this year to each high school's stadium May 28. St. Charles East and St. Charles North graduations that in past years have been held inside NIU's Convocation Center will be outdoors May 24 at the university's Huskie Stadium.
School leaders say they are trying to figure out ways to make the observances more meaningful for seniors despite pandemic challenges.
"We want to recognize our graduates in the most personal way possible while adhering to safety guidelines," said Peg Mannion, spokeswoman for Glenbard High School District 87. "Although administrators are still discussing options, they anticipate holding these ceremonies on our campuses. Multiple abbreviated ceremonies will likely have to take place to adhere to safety guidelines."
Despite limitations on pomp and circumstance rituals, school leaders are striving to observe some traditions, such as having students walk a stage to receive diplomas and allowing senior prom festivities.
While Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 is trying to finalize plans, officials also are working with student and parent groups to craft "creative, safe and enjoyable ways" to celebrate customary end-of-year events, such as award ceremonies, proms and graduations.
"We will do all that we can to make these activities in-person and memorable experiences for our students and their families," spokesman Tom Petersen said.