(FOX 9) - Minnesota education and health officials are banning large, in-person graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the safest way for schools to celebrate is for everyone to stay home.
Officials released public health guidance Friday for high school and college graduation ceremonies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance was developing in consultation with school leaders and the Minnesota Department of Health.
"It’s not as simple as putting people out on a field and bringing out a ruler to make sure they’re 6 feet apart," Susan Klammer, a state epidemiologist, told reporters on a Friday conference call. "You have to think about all the elements associated with that type of gathering."
VIRTUAL CEREMONIES RECOMMENDED
Officials say virtual ceremonies are their top recommendation for celebrating graduation or commencement this year. Indoor graduations and ceremonies held outside in stadiums and football fields are not permitted.
WHAT ABOUT CAR PARADES?
Graduation celebrations such as car parades or parking lot ceremonies are allowed, but each household should be in a separate cars and attendees should remain in their cars. If the cars have their windows down, they should be parked at least six feet apart.
Graduation caps should not be thrown in the air outside, because it may encourage attendees to leave their vehicles, officials said.
No matter what, people with COVID-19 symptoms should not attend such events.
WHAT ABOUT DIPLOMAS?
Distributing materials such as diplomas, caps and gowns should be done via contactless delivery or pickup whenever possible, with staff wearing cloth face coverings and gloves.
DELAYED CELEBRATIONS NOT RECOMMENDED
Some schools have said they are considering delaying graduation ceremonies until later in the summer to allow for a more traditional event, however, officials say they cannot offer a timeline for when public health guidance will be changed to accommodate large gatherings.
Klammer said the state had no timeline for when graduation parties would be allowed.
Right now, such gatherings are banned under Gov. Tim Walz's stay-home order, which expires May 18. Walz was noncommittal when asked Friday whether he would extend it.
Some Republican lawmakers criticized ban on in-person graduation ceremonies as heavy-handed.
"This one-size-hurts-all approach completely ignores the thoughtful deliberations and plans already in place with local school leaders," state Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said in an emailed statement.
Walz defended the decision while pushing back on the criticism.
"We're certainly not trying to do one-size-fits-all," the governor said. "And I get it, not all people think we need to do social distancing, wear masks. But I need to listen to the health experts on this."