DOH will allow outdoor graduations

education illustration: apple on top of books with blackboard in background.

Apple on top of school books.


High schools and colleges on the Navajo Nation will be allowed to have in-person outdoor graduation ceremonies, President Jonathan Nez announced Thursday.

The guidelines allow for limited in-person outdoor graduation events for high school (seniors only) and college/university graduates. Only virtual/live-streamed or drive-thru graduation events are allowed for all other grade levels. The guidelines are from the Navajo Department of Health, which has been monitoring declining COVID-19 cases and an increase in vaccinated individuals over the last month.

It is strongly recommended that those who attend or participate:
• be fully or partially vaccinated,
• not be ill or quarantining, or
• not have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last two weeks.

Those recently tested for COVID-19 and waiting on results should not attend the event until negative results are received. Individuals who are not fully vaccinated should be tested for COVID-19 in the 24 to 48 hours prior to attending a graduation event. 

“We understand that this is a very special occasion for graduates, their families, and for the schools,” stated Nez. “Last year, all in-person graduation ceremonies were prohibited because of the outbreak of COVID-19.” 

Most schools improvised with drive-thru or online commencements.

On Thursday, there were a reported 13 new COVID-19 positive cases for the Navajo Nation and no recent deaths. The total number of deaths remains 1,282 as previously reported. Reports indicate that 29,213 individuals have recovered from COVID-19. 267,196 COVID-19 tests have been administered. The total number of positive COVID-19 cases is now 30,565, including two delayed reported cases. 

As of May 2 the vaccination numbers on Navajo Nation were: 247,165 doses distributed; 224,465 doses administered; 99,254 people fully vaccinated.


In-person high school and college/university graduation events must:

▪  be held outdoors;

▪  last two hours or less;

▪  require facemarks for all attendees and graduates;

▪  limit attendance to 50 or fewer graduates (multiple events may be held at separate times, at least two hours apart, to accommodate graduating classes larger than 50);

▪  limit school administrative staff to 40 or fewer;

▪  limit each graduate to a maximum of four guests, not to exceed 100 total guests

▪  require pre-registration for all attendees;

▪  require all attendees to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines (attendees may be screened at entrance for fever and other symptoms).

Guests or families that live in the same home may sit together, but each family group from separate households must be seated at least six feet apart. Schools are to provide visual markers to designate seating areas for each family. Graduates must be seated at least six feet apart from each other and all guests.

Schools must maintain a record of all attendees for at least 30 days to assist with contact tracing.

Diplomas are to be passed with no handshakes and no person-to-person contact.

While everyone should be wearing a mask, presenters and speakers may remove masks if they are at least 10 feet away from others, the DOH says. If singing or chanting is planned, performers need to be staged a minimum of 10 feet away from others while outdoors.

“Discourage audience members from yelling and other practices that may increase the likelihood of transmission from droplets,” the DOH suggests.

Photos are permissible, and graduates may temporarily remove masks for a professional photograph after receiving their diplomas. Schools are encouraged to set up a designated area for photos to encourage physical distancing.

High-touch surfaces and microphones must be cleaned between speakers, and schools should consider separate entrances and exits to the venue with one-way flow.

No food or drinks will be distributed during graduation events, except for bottled water, but pre-packaged food and drinks may be distributed via drive-thru at a separate designated location to consume in vehicles or at home.

For all other grade levels (pre-school on up):

▪  Only virtual/live-streamed, drive-thru, car parade, or drive-in graduation events are allowed for K-11;

▪  Only virtual/live-streamed is permitted for Head Start graduates;

▪  One vehicle per household for each graduate for drive-thru, car parade, drive-in graduation events;

▪  No food or drinks distributed during graduation events, except for bottled water;

▪  No food/drink concession stands allowed;

▪  Pre-packaged food/drinks may be distributed via drive-thru at a separate designated location to consume in vehicles or at home.

“These graduation guidelines are very difficult,” said Dr. Jill Jim, director for Navajo Department of Health. “We’re still in a pandemic. We also understand there are various ways of trying to reduce the risk of transmission and we are still in online virtual only. 

“Getting vaccinated is still an important factor to combat COVID-19.” 

About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council and Office of the President and Vice President. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @abecenti


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