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'We believe it can be safely done' | Montgomery Co. to vote on guidelines for in-person graduations

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council will vote on updated guidelines for graduation ceremonies, which will limit attendance to 50% capacity of outdoor venues.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — In-person graduations could return in Montgomery County later this spring as the county council gets set to vote on updated guidelines on Tuesday.

According to plans posted on the council's website, graduations held at outdoor venues will be required to limit attendance to 50% of the facility's capacity.

For graduations held indoors, attendance will be capped at 25% capacity.

The ceremonies will also need to follow a set of rules, including:

  • Records being kept for 30 days of everyone who attends the graduation to help with contact tracing
  • No more than 10 people on stage at one time
  • Everyone in the audience from different households must stay at least six feet apart 
  • No group or staged photography
  • Diplomas can only be distributed without handshakes or physical contact

The vote comes as students slowly return to schools across the county.

Sarah Kessler, whose daughter will graduate from high school later this spring, welcomed the updated guidelines for the ceremonies.

"We definitely 100% want something in-person and I think we all believe that it can be safely done," she said. "We’ll take anything we can get. At the very least, just let our graduates be together.”

Graduations are one of a number of subjects related to the pandemic being address by school leaders.

Recently, the county announced that a full-time "virtual academy" will be offered in the fall for any parents who choose not to send their children back to classrooms.

The academy will be open to students in Pre-K through 12th grade and offer virtual classes with staff hired specifically for the digital lessons.

On Monday, a school district spokesperson said the county is exploring a part-time option for high school students only.

The spokesperson added that the virtual academy will not feature automatic enrollment and families interested in the option will need to fill out an application.

Further details of the plan are still being worked on but parents who spoke to WUSA9 on Monday said they supported the option.

"If you have a child with a health issue, it means you don’t really want them out in public until they’re vaccinated. I think it’s a marvelous option," said Becky Mayo, who has two children in Montgomery County Public Schools. "If you’ve got a kid who really is scared to go back or if they’re scared to go in the building, how much attention can they pay?”

Mayo said having teachers specifically assigned to virtual schooling makes the option even more beneficial to families.

Moving forward, Mayo said she might consider the virtual academy for her daughter if she doesn't receive the vaccine by fall.

"I think offering the virtual academy is really evidence that they (Montgomery County Public Schools) have listened to how many teachers and students really want another option," she said. "It’s just what your comfort level is because all of us are figuring this all out every day.” 

Montgomery County Public Schools told WUSA 9 on Monday that it will be sending out surveys to parents by the end of the week on the virtual academy.

The district said the responses will help it further organize plans for the fall.

RELATED: Virginia is increasing capacity limits for some events starting today

RELATED: Northam: Plan for safe in-person graduations and commencements in Virginia announced

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