School staff working with families, class of 2022 to honor deceased students

Published 3:54 pm Friday, April 1, 2022

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Albert Lea High School Principal Chris Dibble said Friday staff are working with families of the three students who died in recent years but would have graduated in 2022 to figure out how to recognize their loved ones in upcoming commencement events at the school. 

Dibble said staff have met with one family and reached out to the two other families of the students who died.

“We are also in daily contact with representatives from the class of 2022 to find the most appropriate ways to commemorate the students who have been lost,” Dibble said in an email to the Tribune. “As a district, we have always found ways to recognize deceased students at important events such as commencement.”

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Dibble’s statements were in response to a Tuesday afternoon Facebook post that became widespread about students at Albert Lea High School asking for help from parents of students attending the school. The students claimed Dibble denied the students the opportunity to honor their deceased classmates in the upcoming graduation ceremony. 

The post read: “As many of you know we are still grieving over the losses of our peers at our school and we are simply asking of three chairs for the 2021-2022 class of ’22 commencement in memory of those three students whom we grew up with and still hold deeply and close in our hearts.

“When asked if that could be a possibility our [Principal Chris Dibble] said something around the lines ’those students are no longer a part of our school, they are diseased.’ [sic]

“Is it really too much to ask for to have three additional chairs in memory of those three loved students?”  

Dibble said any message passed along that he or any member of the administrative team had denied students a chance to remember and celebrate members of the class was not true.

In an email sent to staff Tuesday night, Dibble said that until that point no members of the senior class or high school staff had brought up a plan to honor students but that a plan would be forthcoming. He also said no yearbook section about students who would have graduated in 2022 but had died was ever brought to the administration for approval. Furthermore, he said no students who had submitted photos towards a senior display outside of the media center were left out.  

With the large number of mixed messages that have been sent, the strong emotional reaction is completely understandable,” he said. “We are working to come up with a plan to meet the needs of all of our students.”

The principal said he also appeared on the five-minute “Pawz,” the daily student-run news video, explaining to students what was happening. 

He apologized to the students for any misunderstandings there may have been and said he looked forward to working with the class of 2022 and the entire school to honor the students in a way they think it should be done.

Albert Lea Area Schools had released an earlier statement Tuesday afternoon:

Concerns have been expressed regarding a potential memorial for students that have passed from the graduating class of 2022. 

“Historically, Albert Lea Area Schools has done some form of recognition for deceased students. We are currently in the process of trying to determine the best way to move forward. We will be reaching out to families to gather input as we develop plans. 

Milestones in life, such as school graduations, are times when memories of those who died and are not there can be triggered. Commemorating the students of our school community who have died helps everyone process the devastating loss and assure that the person will not be forgotten.”