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Alberta education minister asks for MLAs to be invited to grad ceremonies during COVID-19

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange speaking at the UCP annual general meeting on December 1, 2019. Adam MacVicar / Global News

As Alberta schools remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are adjusting to a new reality of online learning and non-traditional graduation ceremonies.

Drive-thru events and virtual celebrations are just a couple of the ways that students are commemorating their graduation amid the pandemic.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Alberta schools to stay closed for rest of academic year; province eyeing early summer start

However, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange fears elected officials are getting left out of the celebrations, and on Thursday, LaGrange sent out a letter calling on all school boards in the province to “diligently invite” MLAs to the events.

“It has come to my attention that some school divisions in the province have not been allowing elected officials, notably members of the Legislative Assembly, to participate in digital or alternative graduation ceremonies,” LaGrange wrote.

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“If a school is hosting graduation through alternative means, such as digital or drive-thru ceremony, there is absolutely no reason why your elected officials, regardless of partisanship or level of government, should not be invited or allowed to participate.”

Click to play video: 'Making graduation special in the age of COVID-19' Making graduation special in the age of COVID-19
Making graduation special in the age of COVID-19 – Jun 3, 2020

LaGrange’s request is not sitting well with all parents.

On Friday, Support Our Students, a parent group in Alberta, took to Twitter, sharing the minister’s letter and their thoughts on it.

“Odd use of power for a minister claiming to support choice and school board autonomy,” the tweet said.

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SOS member Barbara Silva said the letter seemed insensitive to the current situation students are facing.

“I think of all the things that families and graduates are going through right now during a pandemic and trying to organize graduation ceremonies, for a government to have their first major province-wide communications with graduates in schools about their graduation ceremonies to be an emphasis on inviting MLAs seems tone deaf and completely out of touch.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Calgary parents organize drive-thru graduation for class of 2020

Silva said the letter had an intimidating tone and didn’t seem to show much understanding for the current restrictions families are facing.

“We’re at a time where people that can attend graduation ceremonies — however they’re being held — are restricted. Some families are expressing to us, that if there was a spot available, they would want a grandparent there or an aunt or uncle,” she said.

In a statement to Global News on Friday, LaGrange’s press secretary, Colin Aitchison, noted that MLAs attending graduations is not a new concept.

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“All elected officials, including councillors, members of the legislative assembly and members of parliament are proud of our graduating students, and as representatives of their communities, use this as an opportunity to commemorate these students and wish them success in their next steps,” Aitchison said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Calgary class of 2020 celebrates physically distanced graduation in backyard

Aitchison added that several elected officials have expressed facing barriers in attending the alternate graduation ceremonies taking place across the province.

He said that, despite the pandemic, officials should still be able to continue the tradition of attending these celebrations.

“A long-standing practice in our education system is to invite locally elected officials from all levels of government –regardless of political affiliation — to participate in graduation ceremonies, provide greetings and to provide scrolls and certificates of congratulations from their level of government to the graduating class,” he said.

“The letter was sent to simply remind school divisions that if they are hosting graduation through an alternative means, there should be ways to accommodate attendance from local councillors, MLAs or MPs.”

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