On May 5, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Texas Education Agency guidance on graduation ceremonies for Texas school districts. Districts should consult with legal counsel to make sure graduation ceremony plans are allowed under current state and local orders. Participation by a student or family member in a ceremony is voluntary. A student may participate in a graduation ceremony upon certification that the student has satisfied all graduation requirements.

TEA is providing four options for schools to honor their graduating seniors, and each district may choose any of these preferences that best serve the needs and desires of their community:

  • Completely virtual ceremony takes place wholly online at any time, with the use of video conference or other technologies. No action is required on the part of school districts to obtain approval for a virtual ceremony. Examples include:
    • Real-time or pre-recorded interactive webinar events can recognize individuals while students, faculty, and friends join on their computers using audio and webcam to be part of the ceremony.
    • Districts/schools can use vendor-produced ceremonies featuring premade content and templates, the ability to customize content, a choice of live or prerecorded speeches and award presentations, and an all-in-one platform to create a graduation ceremony.
  • Hybrid ceremony, which comprises a compilation of videos of students being recognized in person as they celebrate graduation in small groups. Specific conditions include:
    • Individuals must comply with the Minimum Standard Health Protocols on Visits to Schools During Campus Closures unless otherwise authorized in conditions.
    • Prior to participating, individuals must be screened by school system employees for new or worsening signs or symptoms of possible COVID-19. Individuals with any signs or symptoms must be excluded.
    • Total number of individuals within close proximity during video filming/photos must not exceed five.
    • No rehearsals permitted.
    • Hand sanitizer or washing stations must be at entrances to the building where filming occurs.
    • Consider having all individuals wear cloth face coverings while inside any facilities, or within 6 feet of another person who is not a household member, except when photos are taken.
    • Diplomas or other documents may not be handed from person to person unless gloves and mask are worn. Effort must be made to mitigate virus exposure when participants handle documents and other objects such as diplomas and awards.
    • Commonly touched surfaces must be frequently sanitized.
    • A comprehensive communication plan must be in place to ensure individuals are aware of safety protocols at the ceremony, with explicit instructions to graduates not to congregate outside of school sponsored events.
    • If family members are to be allowed to observe or participate, school officials should communicate with students in advance to determine how many family members will be attending so they can plan appropriately to implement social distancing measures, logistics, and other safety measures.
    • Examples include:
      • Students are brought into a school, another indoor venue, or an outdoor venue individually or in small groups, with or without family members, to be filmed and to have photos taken in caps and gowns walking across the stage to receive their diplomas.
      • A ceremony can include pre-recorded speeches from commencement speakers, students, and faculty members uploaded into a clickable graduation program.
  • Vehicle ceremony, in which students and their families wait in their cars while other graduates are recognized individually with their families alongside them. Such ceremonies can begin on May 15. In addition to applicable orders for a hybrid ceremony outlined above, conditions for a vehicle ceremony include:
    • Only members of same household (five individuals or fewer, excluding the graduate) may be present in a vehicle with the graduate.
    • Graduates may only be brought together for one event per class or group.
    • School employees at the ceremony must be limited to the minimum number needed to logistically support the ceremony.
    • Examples include:
      • Participants arrive at a designated venue (one vehicle with the graduate and family members from the same household) and remain in their vehicles. When called the family drives to a stage, the graduate exits the vehicle, and walks across the stage to receive a diploma from an administrator or dignitary wearing gloves.
      • Participants arrive at a designated venue (one vehicle with the graduate and family members from the same household) and remain in their vehicles to view previously recorded speeches shown on a screen with audio provided through loud speakers or broadcast on a local radio station followed by each graduate’s name being called.
  • Outdoor in-person ceremony, currently permitted in certain counties, may occur between May 15 and May 28 in a rural county that has an attestation as described in the Governor’s Report to Open Texas that remains in effect 7 days prior to the ceremony. An outdoor ceremony may take place in any Texas county on or after May 29. Permission is subject to change as underlying public health conditions change. In addition to applicable orders for a hybrid or vehicle ceremony outlined above, conditions for an outdoor in-person ceremony include:
    • School systems must cap the total number of individuals (inclusive of students, families, and staff) to a level that can be managed in the outdoor venue to maximize social distancing, during the event and during entry and exit.
    • Six feet or more spacing between all individuals must be maintained, except with members of same household. Five individuals or fewer, excluding the graduate if seated with the household, may sit together, but must be at least 6 feet away from any other family group.
    • Assigned seating for individuals should be considered to more efficiently ensure separation between household groups.
    • Specific plans should be developed for arrivals and departures to ensure appropriate social distancing.
    • School employees must be stationed appropriately to ensure compliance with all requirements and to limit congregation.
    • Examples include:
      • Graduates may be seated at a sufficient distance from one another on the football field with limited guests in the bleachers or no guests at all.
      • A livestream or televised broadcast of the ceremony may be provided to limit participant attendance and for those unable to attend.

In-person indoor ceremonies are not yet permitted under current executive orders. Full details of the TEA's graduation ceremony guidance can be found here.

FAQ on graduation attendance

What do I do if my district directs me to participate in a graduation ceremony or otherwise return to my school building and my health puts me at risk for contracting COVID-19?

The first step would be to contact your health care provider for advice regarding whether you should stay home due to a vulnerability to COVID-19. If such advice is received, you should contact your human resources department and let them know you are taking leave pursuant to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Note there are other restrictions on the return to schools in Gov. Abbott’s Executive Order and TEA guidelines, so members should call the TCTA Legal Department at 888-879-8282 if you have any questions or concerns about a directive.

Under the FFCRA, school districts must provide up to two weeks of paid leave at 100 percent of pay (up to $511 per day and $5,110 total) for the reasons listed in the rule to employees who have been employed at least 30 days prior to the leave request. This paid leave is in addition to any accrued sick or personal leave the employee may have available. The district may not make you use your accrued sick or personal leave. Leave is available if:

(i) A health care provider advises the Employee to self-quarantine based on a belief that—

(A) The Employee has COVID-19;
(B) The Employee may have COVID-19; or
(C) The Employee is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19; and

(ii) Following the advice of a health care provider to self-quarantine prevents the Employee from being able to work, either at the Employee's normal workplace or by Telework.

The following documentation of the need for leave is required:

  1. Employee's name;
  2. Date(s) for which leave is requested;
  3. Qualifying reason for the leave; and
  4. Oral or written statement that the Employee is unable to work because of the qualified reason for leave.

. . .

an Employee must additionally provide the Employer with . . .

(2) The name of the health care provider who advised the individual being cared for to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.

Click here for more information.

The poster from the Department of Labor about paid sick leave and available child care benefits is available here.