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Thousands protest new graduation guidelines

“The guidance we’re seeing here is frankly unrealistic. It’s a one-size hurts all.”

MINNEAPOLIS — Thousands of parents, students and school leaders have signed online petitions protesting the state’s new graduation guidelines.

On Friday, state leaders announced the graduation guidelines that prohibit in-person gatherings, while encouraging virtual ceremonies that would allow people to stay at home. The guidelines further stipulated the safety precautions needed when attempting a “car parade” or “parking lot ceremony.”

But on Monday, one change.org petition started by Springfield High School senior Isaac Rasset already had more than 11,000 signatures.

“My parents always told me if you feel strongly about something you should act on it,” Rasset told KARE 11 on Monday, noting that he was concerned that, “all the efforts that my administration had taken towards having a safe graduation in this crazy time was just kind of thrown out.”

And Rasset isn’t alone in his frustration or actions.

“I was angry. I was angry at the fact that we didn’t get a choice, it was just kind of given to us,” said Shila Bali, whose daughter Haile is graduating from Farmington High School next month.

“We formed a committee just for this,” Bali said, adding that they’d planned to divide the students into sections and conduct the ceremony in shifts.

“We figured we’d do an hour on, an hour off to clean, another hour on for graduation, another hour off to clean,” she said.

It’s those plans – and individual district approaches – that led Republican Representative Ron Kresha of Little Falls to write a letter to State Education Commissioner Mary Ricker, asking she “retract and review” the graduation guidelines.

“The guidance we’re seeing here is frankly unrealistic. It’s a one-size hurts all,” he said, noting that smaller districts especially in greater Minnesota could more easily plan for safe social distancing events.

In a statement issued on Monday, Minnesota Department of Education Spokesperson Wendy Hatch said the decision “breaks our heart,” and was made with “public health protection in mind.”

The following is the full MDE 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.”

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.

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