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Albert Lea school board looks closer at graduation plans

The Albert Lea school district is considering dividing up this year’s senior class into two groups to accommodate social distancing guidelines for outdoor graduation ceremonies in July amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk gave an overview of the district’s graduation plans Monday night to the school board. He said the final decision will be made by July 10 to give time to inform families of graduates.

Funk said the Albert Lea Area Learning Center plans to host its graduation July 23, though the place has not yet been determined.

For Albert Lea High School, officials are planning to have two graduations July 24 — one at 5 p.m. and one at 7:30 p.m. — at Gustafson Field. Graduates would be divided in half by alphabet.

Graduates would park at the high school and would be allowed two guests each.

He said the bleachers would be roped off to allow for social distancing for guests, and the graduates themselves would be distanced on the football field.

There would be no band, choir or orchestra, but music would be provided.

He said the only teachers that would be present are the Teacher of the Year and the teachers announcing the student names.

Students will pick up diplomas on a table as the board congratulates them but will not shake hands.

Funk said school board member Kim Nelson is slated to speak at both graduations for the board, and the same student speaker will speak at both graduations.

Nelson, who has been a part of planning the event, said the district had a meeting last week with Albert Lea Public Safety Director J.D. Carlson, Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag and Freeborn County Public Health Director Sue Yost about the plans, and all were supportive that the district is starting its plan for that day and said they will share their resources with the district. She said they were supportive of the district making changes to accommodate the entire senior class in one graduation if restrictions are alleviated by that time.

School board member Angie Hanson said she preferred to have the two separate graduations for the high school even if lightened restrictions allowed them to do otherwise to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Funk said the capacity for the stadium is 2,500.

School board member Jill Marin asked what the plans were in the event of inclement weather.

Funk said this depended on COVID-19 guidelines for indoor large capacity gatherings. If the state is allowing large gatherings, the graduations would be shifted inside. Otherwise, the district would simply shift the graduations a day.

The board in April voted to move the district’s graduation ceremony to July from its original date May 22. Graduation is typically held in the Albert Lea High School gym.