It’s back to the drawing board for Waconia High School graduation.

The Minnesota Department of Education, Office of Higher Education, and Minnesota Department of Health last week released new guidance for schools on conducting graduation ceremonies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Minnesota essentially banned large-scale high school and college graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 to limit the spread of the coronavirus, dashing the spirits of students who had been holding out hope for traditional pomp and circumstance.

The Waconia School District had been considering a social distancing style outdoor graduation ceremony at the high school stadium, but that has been nixed by the latest guidance. Indoor graduations and large outdoor gatherings in places like stadiums or football fields are not allowed under state direction that came out last Friday. The departments instead are recommending virtual commencement ceremonies where possible, ensuring that graduates and their families do not have to leave their homes.

“In-person social gatherings with people from multiple households, even in situations where ample space between attendees could be accommodated, does not comply with social distancing practices and introduces a great deal of contact unpredictability and increases the potential for disease transmission,” the guidance statement reads.

Gov. Tim Walz, a former high school teacher, called it a painful decision but said he said he must rely on what the health experts are telling him.

“We are trying our best to make sure that we are striking that proper balance between public health and these important social milestones,” Walz said during his daily briefing for reporters.

School district officials and participants at Monday night’s District 110 school board meeting expressed frustration with the latest guidance, particularly the timing so close to Waconia’s impending May 24 graduation date.

They also expressed concerns about the MDE’s lagging guidance on summer community education programs, summer school and summer child care, and the start of next school year – whether that will be in person or a distance learning model.

In terms of this year’s graduation, high school leaders, administrators and graduation planners will reconvene on alternative options, said Superintendent Pat Devine, and should have a plan in place by the end of this week.

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