Minnesota House defeats attempt to allow in-person graduation ceremonies

Legislators meet at the Capitol.
Lawmakers practice social distancing at the State Capitol on April 7 in St. Paul.
Jim Mone | AP

The Minnesota House defeated a push Sunday to let schools bypass graduation restrictions issued by the state during the coronavirus pandemic.

By a 69-61 vote, the DFL-led House turned back a Republican effort to let schools fete the Class of 2020 in-person as long as social distancing practices are followed. Earlier this month, the state Department of Education said large ceremonies could put health at risk and advised against them.

The vote came after a lengthy debate in which some lawmakers recalled the highs and lows of their senior years. Republicans argued that the guidance robbed students and their parents of a rite-of-passage and wrongly applied a one-size-fits-all approach to schools.

Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said districts should be trusted to set up ceremonies that put ample space between graduates, their families and other participants.

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“This amendment doesn’t say go mingle freely without protective masks or have your graduation ceremonies you normally would have,” he said. “That’s not at all what this says.”

House Education Policy Chair Cheryl Youakim, DFL-Hopkins, said it wasn’t an easy call to restrict graduations, but she said lawmakers should trust health experts.

“We all grieve what we’ve lost during this pandemic. It’s the pandemic that changed things for us. But we also are adaptive and we’re creative,” Youakim said. “And I’ve heard wonderful stories about how schools are honoring their seniors, from banners on Main Street to lawn signs in senior yards and even personal curbside, congratulatory celebrations from teachers and principals.”

The state guidelines do allow for car parades in school parking lots and encourage other ways to honor graduates.

Youakim said the underlying education bill that the amendment was lined up to was carefully negotiated with the Republican-led Senate, and any amendments could disrupt that.

Lawmakers continued negotiating a bonding bill and other measures on Sunday ahead of a midnight deadline to pass legislation.