New York City school graduations and proms can take place indoors with restrictions

The Hassebroek family prepares for the end of the school year and digital graduation in Brooklyn
Every New York City public school student and staff member would need to wear masks in the 2020-21 school year under a school reopening plan that City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced on July 7, 2020. (REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs)

New York City schools can host graduations along with other ceremonies like prom outdoors or indoors with some restrictions this spring, according to updated guidance from the New York State Department of Health.

For outdoor graduation ceremonies or proms with over 500 people, venues can only hold 33% of their normal capacity and attendees will need to show a recent negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination. Under state guidelines, large indoor ceremonies, in which the number of attendees will exceed 150 people, guests will also be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test and venues will only be allowed to operate at 25% capacity. 

“DOH and CDC continue to recommend that large gatherings be avoided, particularly those in which social distancing cannot be maintained between people who live in different households,” the update guidance states. ” Nothing in this guidance would prohibit delaying a graduation ceremony until the risk of COVID19 transmission has diminished. DOH will continue to monitor public health data and will revise this guidance when appropriate.”

Students will be exempt from the capacity requirements if they are seated in a separate area, like a sports field or stage,  from families and friends during graduation ceremonies as long as both groups have different entries and exits and social distancing requirements can be followed, the guidelines say. 

For indoor graduations, state health officials are strongly encouraging schools to shorten the ceremony in order to minimize the amount to time guests are exposed to one another. In addition, officials urge schools to limit group performances and not allow speakers to share microphones or other equipment unless appropriately cleaned between uses. 

School staff can also work to minimize exposure time between students, families, and friends and prevent crowding by staggering arrival times to graduations and monitoring venue entrances, the guidelines recommend. Officials also encourage schools to limit the number of guests graduates are allotted to attend the ceremony and deliver diplomas, caps and gowns in advance through the mail so that graduates can arrive fully dressed for the ceremony. 

All guests, for both indoor and outdoor graduations, must also wear face coverings unless taking photographs. 

Starting this month, these same capacity rules apply to proms. But given that most prom activities, like eating, drinking and dancing, place teens at risk for spreading or contracting COVID, state health officials recommend a number of restrictions. Some of those restrictions include requiring live bands to stay 12 feet away from guests, allowing tables and groups to dance with each other in “dancing zones” and serving food in individual containers. 

For more information on graduation and prom guidelines visit the New York state website.