LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Republican lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would exempt high school graduation ceremonies from the state’s current COVID-19 order limiting capacity.
House Bill 4728 was passed by the House Education Committee Tuesday following a hearing where school officials and students spoke out in support of the legislation.
One of the lawmakers backing the bill, Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, told News 8 it should be up to school districts to decide what graduation ceremony format works best for their community.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of families in my district and this is something that so many of them keep bringing up to me,” Johnson said. “They already had this last year once and now they’re taking away from the kids again, and for a lot of these kids, this is just another thing that we’re taking away from them.”
In April, the state issued guidelines for graduation ceremonies, limiting attendance to 50% of the venue’s capacity, allowing a maximum of 1,000 people at outdoor gatherings held at school facilities.
For larger school districts, these capacity limits are especially challenging.
“We have 630 students graduating, not like some high schools with 100 or 150,” Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Michael Shibler said.
If the bill were to pass, Shibler said he would consider holding an outdoor in-person graduation ceremony.
If it doesn’t pass, the district will move forward with its current plan of holding a drive-thru graduation celebration like they did last year.
Health officials in Ingham County are pushing back on bill.
“Exempting any kind of a large gathering amongst that age group at this particular time is probably not the wisest thing to do,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said.
The Michigan Education Association is also taking a stand against the legislation, releasing the following statement:
“Keeping our students, educators and communities safe isn’t a political talking point – it must be our top priority as a state. Piecemeal dismantling of public health orders meant to protect everyone’s health is irresponsible …” MEA Director of Public Affairs Doug Pratt stated.
Another West Michigan lawmaker is pledging support for the bill.
“As a mother of two Southwest Michigan High Schoolers, I could not imagine being forced to miss either of their graduation ceremonies …,” Rep. Beth Griffin, R-Mattawan, said in a statement to News 8. “This plan does not require a school district to hold a commencement ceremony or obligate a student and their family to attend. It simply allows districts to choose to hold a graduation if they believe they can do so in a safe and responsible manner.”
Even if passed in the House and Senate, the bill would still require Gove. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature before taking effect. News 8 reached out to Whitmer’s office for response but hasn’t heard back.