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Legislature votes to exempt high school graduations from COVID restrictions

Graduate with cap and gown
Posted at 9:13 PM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 21:15:00-04

LANSING, Mich. — From virtual renditions of Pomp and Circumstance to drive-thru ceremonies, 2020 was a unique year for graduating seniors (to say the least).

With just a month to go in most cases, school districts are still finalizing graduation plans for the 2021 class, as the state battles back from another surge in COVID-19 cases.

After positive feedback from last year, Rockford Public Schools is planning a drive-thru commencement once again.

“That's what we're planning for now, so that we can have as many family members as possible be able to watch their child or their grandson, or their brother and sister get their diploma,” says RPS Superintendent Dr. Mike Shibler.

Shibler says based on the COVID-related capacity restrictions, which caps at 20% for outdoor venues, “normal” in-person ceremonies are not feasible for a district his size.

“That would put us in a situation where we'd have to do at least probably three graduations and that's doesn't seem plausible,” he added.

Though a new proposal could change those plans.

On Wednesday, GOP state lawmakers pushed forward a bill that would make high school graduation ceremonies exempt from state health orders, giving school districts the green light to choose how they want to hold commencement ceremonies.

“Let's begin to safely reduce the number of decrees from the Lansing political towers and create more autonomy to safely give our kids, families this one very important moment in their lives. Most local school boards have done a good job of mitigating the risk of COVID, we should trust them to safely manage their own graduations,” said. Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake).

‘If our local schools and districts can hold safe events, now only one month down the road, they should be able to do so. We can't give them back, everything they have missed, but we can permit them this last irreplaceable high school memory,” Runestad added.

Democrats shot back on the floor, Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing) called the legislation, “utter nonsense.”

“No one is opposed to graduation ceremonies; nobody is trying to prevent them from happening. There are reasonable discussions that we can have of exactly how and where and how things work. And this body's job is not to say that just because it feels good, we can do anything we want, “Hertel said. “The problem is that this place doesn't care about facts any longer.”

Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) was the lone Democrat in the Senate to vote in support of the bill.

The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature Wednesday, just hours after Governor Whitmer removed mask requirements for outdoor events of 100 people or less.

Under her “Vacc to Normal” plan, the state is on pace to ease all restrictions by the beginning of July.