UPDATE: Since the initial publication of this article, we have received many, many questions about whether the 1,000 person limit for an outdoor event applies to all attendees or just guests. We have checked with multiple school attorneys and have found that different firms are interpreting this language differently. Given the feedback we have received, MASSP stands by our interpretation that the 1,000 person limit applies to guests, not all attendees. However, given the situation and the importance of this distinction as it relates to commencement ceremonies, we urge you to check with your local school attorneys and local health department. We have also reached out to Governor Whitmer's office and MDHHS and asked that they clarify this point so as to eliminate any confusion. MASSP will continue to keep members updated as this situation evolves.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has released new guidance regarding end-of-year activities for schools. While MDHHS maintains that virtual events are still the safest option, the new rules will give schools some flexibility that should help accommodate in-person events. They also offer some welcome clarity regarding nuanced issues like dancing at prom and guest vs. attendee capacity for in-person graduations.
This is the most recent statewide guidance available and should be used in place of any previous guidance provided by MASSP.
Here are some key things that Principals will want to know from today's guidance document:
- For commencement ceremonies and similar events the guidance clarifies that the attendance limits that most districts are struggling with (a maximum of 300 people for an indoor event and 1,000 for an outdoor event) only count guests or spectators and schools are not required to count students or staff toward those limits. The additional limit that total attendees allowed at an event (including students, staff, and guests) must not exceed 50% of the facility capacity limits established by the fire marshal remains in place, so make sure to consider not just the hard limits on guests, but also the total capacity of your venue when deciding how many tickets you can give students.
- For schools hosting large graduation events in a stadium or arena with seating capacity of greater than 5,000, districts may follow the Enhanced Outdoor Stadium and Arena Guidance put out by MDHHS to increase their capacity beyond 1,000 people. Facilities that comply with the additional safety measures required by that guidance can host total attendees totaling up to 20% of the fixed seating capacity of the venue (i.e., a venue with 10,000 seats may have up to 2,000 people attend following social distancing guidelines). NOTE: unless your venue has a very large seating capacity, you are likely able to have more total people attend your commencement without using the Enhance Guidance. Consider that 20% capacity in a stadium that seats 6,000 is only 1,200 people, but using the regular rules you could have 1,000 guests and up to 2,000 students and staff provided everyone can socially distance.
- For prom and end-of-year parties, the guidance very clearly specifies that the capacity limits for these types of events, whether on school grounds or at an entertainment/ recreational venue, are as follows:
- Outdoors: 300 people maximum
- Indoors: 25 people maximum
- NOTE: These capacity limits apply to the total number of participants in attendance at the event, including students, guests, staff, and volunteers.
- Schools are encouraged to use cohorting or pods to maintain small groups at all end-of-year gathering events and especially for students attending events like prom. The guidance stresses that for this to be effective, students should remain in the same cohort throughout the event. The recommended cohort size is six or fewer students.
- The guidance clarifies that dancing at prom is allowed without social distancing so long as students remain within their cohorts. Face masks must be worn at all times, six feet of distance should be maintained between each cohort, and cohorts may not intermingle.
- For all end-of-year events, schools are encouraged to rapid test all participants 24 hours prior to the event and to "prohibit students, staff, volunteers, or other attendees who have been 'close contacts' of a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 from attending an event that takes place during their quarantine period." Schools are also encouraged to "prohibit students, staff, volunteers, or other attendees with COVID-19 symptoms from attending the event."
- Schools are also encouraged to test 25% of in-person student population on a weekly basis including, in particular, students who participate in extracurricular activities like sports, band, debate, theater, and other activities that take place outside of school hours.
- For both event testing and large-scale testing, MDHHS indicates in this guidance document that they will provide training, guidance, and rapid antigen testing materials to schools that sign up and agree to the MI Safe Schools Testing Program requirements.
As always, MASSP will continue to update you with any additional information as it becomes available.