State lawmaker discusses graduation ceremony guidelines

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With social distancing reminders and staff in masks, it's a drive-thru pick-up for White Bear Lake senior Isabella Battocletti.

"I got my gown and it looks like my cap is in the back," she said.

The traditional graduation gear will soon be worn but in a very non-traditional ceremony.

"I'm going to wear it," Battocletti said. "I'm going to take pictures in it and pretend."

She's one of about 20 seniors, along with administrators, on a graduation committee planning a unique ceremony at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

Top recommendation for graduation ceremonies: Virtual celebrations

"We had it all set up, they gave us a crew to basically put speakers up all around and we would do a car graduation, so we would all stay in our cars," she described.

The plan unravelled when the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) recommended school districts do virtual ceremonies instead.

"The guidance that the governor's office and MDE has put in place, it really doesn't consider the small schools or some of the great plans that the schools have planned to break these ceremonies up," said State Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls.

Kresha sent a letter to the education commissioner Tuesday asking her to rescind the guidelines and allow schools to hold safe in-person ceremonies if they wish.

"I am anticipating a change," he said. "I don't see anywhere in the law where the commissioner can have any penalties if school districts don't follow these guidelines."

Petitions are popping up daily on, both locally and nationally, as seniors hope for some sense of graduation normalcy. When reached for comment, MDE issued the following statement:

“The safety and well-being of our students, their families and school staff will always be our top priority. That’s why the Minnesota Department of Education worked with school leaders, the Department of Health, the Department of Public Safety, and the Office of Higher Education to create guidelines for graduation celebrations that prioritize the safety and well-being of our communities. The decision was quite hard. Students who have reached this graduation milestone deserve to have their achievements celebrated and it breaks our heart that a traditional in-person ceremony is not safe this year. These guidelines were made with public health protection in mind, and adhering to them is how we will both celebrate our students and move safely through this unprecedented time together.”

Wendy Hatch, a spokesperson from MDE, added the following regarding any possible penalty for holding an in-person ceremony:

"We’d like to dispel this rumor that schools will receive financial penalties from MDE if they choose to go against public health guidelines and hold an in-person graduation ceremony. Just like when other public health guidance is issued, the Department of Public Safety tries to take an educational approach to all those who do not adhere to public health guidelines. Simply put, the consequence of holding an in-person ceremony is public health and the spread of this virus. Like stated in the public health guidelines, COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that can cause serious illness and even death, especially the elderly and those with underlying conditions, and is still spreading throughout Minnesota. Staying home is a crucial way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to collectively protect our community.”