BISMARCK — Local K-12 leaders in North Dakota will get to decide if they will hold graduation ceremonies in school buildings amid the coronavirus crisis, state leaders announced Wednesday, May 6.

The executive order that bans schools from holding in-person classes across North Dakota has been amended to allow graduation ceremonies inside local facilities, State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said during a news conference in Bismarck. The decision will be left to districts, she said.

“The ultimate question we have all been waiting for,” Baesler said. “Can a school still hold a graduation ceremony in a school facility? The answer is yes.”

Ceremonies can be held virtually, indoors, outdoors and via livestream as long as they follow health department guidelines, Baesler said. That will include social distancing and proper cleaning.

Holding a ceremony indoors is the highest risk, Baesler said. Guidelines are available for districts to consult when making their decisions.

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“School district leaders should consider the status of COVID-19 within their own community and surrounding areas when choosing a plan for graduation,” Baesler said, adding the state has the authority to cancel in-person portions of the ceremony if an outbreak occurs in a community.

Baesler also suggested other methods to honor graduates, including a drive-in ceremony or parade. She added people who are sick and members of vulnerable groups should not attend in-person ceremonies.

The state plans to hold a virtual ceremony at 2 p.m. Central Time May 30 that will be aired on ABC channels and Forum Communication Co. websites in North Dakota without the interference of a paywall. The event will feature a message from Gov. Doug Burgum, a musical number from Tigirlilly and a nationally known speaker, Baesler said.

Burgum noted events that attract large audiences are an epidemiologist's greatest fear, but the state is trying to find a balance between saving lives and livelihood.

When asked if Baesler worries that putting this decision on school districts could pressure local leaders to hold ceremonies where it is unsafe to do so, she said she understands the pressure school board members and superintendents face. However, she also noted graduation is a big and important event for communities.

“I have high confidence in our school board members across the state,” she said, adding those local leaders don’t take these decisions lightly.

Fargo Public Schools announced this week it would hold a virtual graduation this month, with a possible in-person ceremony in July.

West Fargo Public Schools said it was waiting for guidance from the state, but did not immediately respond to an email regarding Baesler's announcement.

For more information on graduation guidelines, go to https://www.nd.gov/dpi/nd-smart-restart-high-school-graduation-ceremony-guidance.

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