Northfield High School is planning an outdoor graduation ceremony in June with limited attendance.

The ceremony is expected to start at 2 p.m. June 6 at Memorial Field and be livestreamed. If it rains, graduation will take place at 6:30 p.m. June 7 in the same location because an indoor ceremony cannot take place. Two tickets will be allowed per graduate. Superintendent Matt Hillmann said the event follows updated Minnesota Department of Health guidelines on holding events, including capacity.

An event intended to celebrate seniors is scheduled for Friday, June 4, and begins with a grand march in the High School gymnasium. Hillmann said during an April 12 School Board meeting that the seniors-only event is intended to resemble a prom grand march, without the normal crowds of a non-pandemic year. Seniors will be announced, walk across the stage and have the chance for photographs. Following that, an outdoor, sit-down, catered banquet will take place outside the auditorium entrance. Memorial Field will then host numerous games, activities and events intended to allow seniors to earn tickets for entrance into drawings that could net them prizes.

Plans come after the district returned K-12 students to in-person learning March 31 exactly one year after distance learning began to slow the spread of COVID-19. As of April 12, 13 Northfield High School students and less than five in each of the other schools in the district had influenza-like illnesses, including COVID. The Minnesota Department of Education “strongly” encourages districts with approximately 5% of the total number of students and staff in a school who are absent or sent home with influenza- or COVID-like illnesses reaches approximately 5% in a single week. As of April 12, that number was at 1.27% at Northfield High School and 1.42% at the Middle School.

“The hybrid (learning) method, while a reasonable option due to the previous guidance, did not meet the needs of a significant number of students,” Hillmann said. “Concerns have been raised about the number of Ds and Fs for Middle School, High School and ALC students. Our Middle School, High School and ALC staff did an excellent job of trying to support these students during the hybrid model.”

Hillmann said a change in state guidance from MDH and Department of Education in February, loosening physical distancing requirements from 6 feet to 3 feet “made it possible to host more students on campus.” An additional assurance that the district could return was the reduction of the county’s COVID-19 case rate and the vaccination of educators.

Hillmann credited the district’s partnership with Northfield Hospital & Clinics for ensuring that staff could be vaccinated prior to all students coming back to campus.

Minnesota health officials continue urging people to remain cautious among elevated case activity, including hospitalizations, as more Minnesotans receive a COVID-19 vaccine as more than 1,500 cases from the U.K. COVID-19 variant have been reported statewide. The state announced this week that it has eclipsed the 3 million mark for COVID-19 vaccinations administered. Hillmann said a key difference between this latest stretch and the surge in viral activity late last year is that Northfield Public Schools now has free testing on-demand.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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