Following a recent decision by Gov. Tim Walz, the Friday, June 4 Pine River-Backus High School graduation ceremony will likely be almost back to normal.

High School Principal Chris Halverson said organizers were mulling over holding another drive-thru ceremony much like 2020 when the governor's announcement came through removing most COVID-19 remediation efforts and opening the door for an indoor ceremony. That offered the opportunity to hold a more traditional ceremony indoors in the Performance Gym with a large audience.

There remains some confusion around masks pertaining to the school and school functions. While school officials said the governor's office announced all requirements had been ended for social distancing and masks, that is not entirely true for schools and school functions, which must still require masks.

For the time being, this is true for the graduation ceremony as well.

Superintendent Jon Clark said at the Monday, May 17, school board meeting that the continued mask requirement may be tied to the age limitations of the COVID-19 vaccine. Only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is approved for those over age 12.

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Clark also said the school district will not require COVID-19 vaccinations, but students who expect to travel by air or cruise for school functions may be under requirements the school has no control over.

In an effort to help seniors avoid missing the graduation ceremony due to illness or quarantine, the school district is offering seniors the option of finishing the year with distance learning. Their last day is Thursday, May 27, so students who choose distance learning might reduce their chances of coming in contact with or contracting COVID-19 at a time that might preclude them from participating in graduation ceremonies Friday, June 4.

Though COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, PR-B School has currently spiked with the highest number of positive cases (10), so some students might choose to be more cautious to ensure they can attend the ceremony.

In other business May 17, the board:

  • Learned that COVID-19 appears to have had a significant impact on district academic performance with a record 109 students in the elementary school being recommended for summer school and a spike in the number of eighth grade students not meeting expectations in MCA scores.
  • Hired Rick Aulie as junior high golf coach, Jacob Wilkinson as transportation director, Rachel Telfer as mid level interventionist, Jennifer Parry as early childhood parent and family educator, and Michael Young as special education teacher.

  • Accepted resignations of Lauren Johnson and Joseph Forte, special education teachers; and Justin Franke and John Riewer, physical education teachers.
  • Approved a leave of absence for Jamie Rugroden, high school special education teacher, and authorized posting for a long-term substitute.
  • Rescinded the policy requiring face coverings in school, effective June 30 or when the state executive order applying to schools officially ends.
  • Approved forming a high school MEIERS interventionist position.
  • Agreed to form a Setting 3 special education program.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.