High school graduations: What schools can and can't do

Here's MDE's guidelines for in-person ceremonies
graduation, pandemic

Graduates should wear a mask if they leave the car to pick up a diploma, MDH says. Anyone handing off diplomas should wear gloves and a mask. 

The new “Stay Safe Minnesota” order has not changed what we’ve always known for Minnesota graduation ceremonies: no large gatherings allowed.

While the order, effective this week, allows socially distanced gatherings of 10 or fewer people, the Minnesota Department of Health guidelines emphasize the “safest way to observe graduation/commencement is for everyone to stay home.”

Many districts, like Rochester Public Schools, have planned a “drive-up” ceremony. Under Rochester’s plan, graduates can leave the car to pick up their diploma — either from a gloved and masked officiator, or from a table. Still, the district says it is still awaiting approval from the Minnesota Department of Education and MDH.

Here’s what the MDH has said so far about drive-by and parking lot celebrations.


  • Keep it brief, with a limited number of speakers, who should not congregate.
  • Anyone experiencing Covid 19 symptoms should not attend, “no matter what,” the MDH says.
  • Participation should be optional 
  • If there are multiple speakers, everyone should use their own microphone. If only one mic is available, “consider cleaning between speakers or leaving it untouched on a stand.”
  • Schools must have a traffic flow plan.
  • Schools should not provide any food or beverages, as well as access to bathrooms, as this increases risk of transmission.
  • Schools should partner with local public safety departments

Stay in the car, everyone

Only members of the same household should share a car, and objects (like yearbooks) shouldn’t be passed between cars.

Cars may park next to each other if all windows are rolled up. If windows are rolled down, cars must stay six feet apart.

Graduation caps

Tossing graduation caps is not permitted by MDH, which says it would encourage people to leave vehicles.


Practice contactless delivery or pick-up whenever possible, MDH says.

If schools opt for curbside pick-up, staff should be wearing cloth face masks and gloves (work gloves are OK). Graduates should also wear a mask, and “should not leave their car whenever possible,” MDH says. Also, there should be clear signage and communication for the ordeal.

If schools choose to deliver diplomas, they should be left outside the student’s residence.

Contactless payment should be used whenever possible. Anyone exchanging money should wear gloves. 

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