ST PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota State Lawmaker is urging Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker to pull back a list of guidelines that limit what districts and schools can do to celebrate graduations.
Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) sent a letter to Commissioner Ricker urging her to rescind the statewide guidelines, which were issued jointly Friday by the Minnesota Department of Education, Office of Higher Education, and the Minnesota Department of Health.
Those guidelines say traditional ceremonies like indoor graduations in gyms and arenas, or large outdoor gatherings in places like stadiums or football fields are not allowed.
"These gatherings are not considered safe at any size and will not be permitted," read the guidelines. "Likewise, indoor graduations/commencement ceremonies will also not be permitted."
The guidelines also discourage other public celebrations like parking lot gatherings or car parades, saying it is better for everyone to stay home, and do ceremonies virtually.
"It is incredibly disappointing the administration took this unilateral 'one-size-hurts-all' action with little or no warning, and apparently no flexibility for schools capable of holding their ceremonies safely," Kresha wrote to the commissioner. "This guidance is causing a tremendous amount of frustration. Please rescind your Graduation Celebration Guidelines and accept the recommendations and plans from local school leaders and parents instead."
Kresha goes on to say that Governor Walz's peacetime emergency powers expire on May 13, and the state's current Stay at Home order ends at midnight on May 17. He maintains that the guidelines issued by Rickert and the other state agencies gives the impression that the Department of Education is already aware of an extension, or plans unilateral decision-making if either the state of emergency or stay at home order expire as currently scheduled.
State health officials have expressed worry that large gatherings like graduation ceremonies, proms, and other events with challenges to the state's social distance policies could lead to major outbreaks of COVID-19.
The Minnesota Department of Education responded in statement, saying: "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."