Prince William Co. schools revisiting graduation as capacity restrictions ease

It appears fewer virtual caps will be tossed in Virginia this year thanks to new public health guidance and relaxed capacity restrictions statewide.

With COVID-19 vaccinations in the commonwealth on track to reach President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% by July 4, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam moved up the date where all capacity and distancing restrictions will be lifted by two weeks — going from June 15 to May 28.

That news came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that essentially all masking and distancing requirements no longer apply to those who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus

It’s perfect timing for a slate of graduations to be held by Prince William County Public Schools and other school systems in Northern Virginia early next month.

“We’re excited that the governor moved up the timeline for lifting restrictions to May 28,” Babur Lateef, the chairman at-large for Prince William County Public Schools, told WTOP.

“We believe that the new mandate will allow us to have more guests at our outdoor ceremonies  with less restrictions …[and] we believe that the governor’s order clears the way for Jiffy Lube [Live] to do that.”

The Bristow, Virginia-based amphitheater is hosting graduations for both Prince William County and Fairfax County schools, according to Lateef.

Rare instances of COVID-19 transmission outdoors have turned the popular concert venue into a destination for regional graduation ceremonies that previously took place inside large theaters or stadiums.

Now that Northam is no longer mandating capacity restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus, Lateef said that the decision falls on Jiffy Lube Live as to whether the site will allow more guests for graduations.

Currently, the site is only going to allow each student to have two guests under the covered pavilion area of the venue

The relaxed restrictions have Lateef thinking students could have up to five guests, with a possibility of Jiffy Lube Live allowing the grassy lawn area to have guests as well.

It would also bring the pavilion’s total number of attendees up from 3,000 people to 5,000, per Lateef.

That will discussed in a meeting between Prince William County’s school board and the venue on Monday.

“There’s no guarantee that they will do that,” Lateef said. “But we believe [by] working with them over the last few weeks that they are inclined to accommodate us as much as the governor’s order will allow.”

The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on all those involved in the school system.

Lateef praised teachers for stepping up in ways that no one could have ever imagined over the past 15 months.

But he doesn’t think the flexibility shown by students has been talked about enough. He said they not only had to adapt to a new way of learning, but a new way of going about applying for colleges and jobs that no one has had to deal with before as well.

The ability to hold a live, in-person graduation is the least the school system can do after such a trying period students and their families.

“Many of their rites of passages have been stripped away,” Lateef said of this year’s senior class as well as last year’s 12th graders.

“Rewarding them with a proper ceremony, allowing as many of their family to participate as possible, I think is the right thing to do. And [it] will help us get back to a level of normal that the country desperately needs.”

WTOP’s Liz Anderson contributed to this report.

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Matthew Delaney

Matt Delaney is a digital web writer/editor who joined WTOP in 2020.

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