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Although the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa already announced their upcoming commencement ceremonies will be virtual - and are well into planning them - a Republican lawmaker is sponsoring a bill requiring Iowa's public universities to hold in-person spring graduations.
House Study Bill 246, proposed this week by Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, would force the regent universities to hold traditional in-person spring commencement ceremonies during the regularly scheduled times in May and June - two and three months from now.
The bill requires the campuses allow at least two guests per graduate - which could mean many thousands at some of the larger ceremonies, like for undergraduates of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
'The universities may establish protocols for the control and prevention of COVID-19, as deemed necessary,” according to the proposal.
While the UI and UNI at the start of the spring semester announced their plans, Iowa State University has said it won't announce a decision until Monday.
The campuses have reported thousands of positive COVID-19 cases this academic year and have offered a blend of virtual and face-to-face classes.
COVID-19 case numbers have been lower this semester across the campuses, which also have canceled their spring breaks to prevent high-risk travel.
All three regent universities held their spring and fall 2020 graduations online, and UI officials acknowledged the disappointment in losing the in-person experience when they announced plans to nix it again in May and June.
'We know how much these ceremonies mean to our students and their families,” the earlier UI announcement said. 'While May seems a long way off, we feel it is the right decision to make now to maintain the health and safety of the entire campus community.”
ISU has reported its 'Commencement Advisory Committee is evaluating multiple options for commencement - with a focus on safety for students, faculty, staff and guests - that appropriately honor graduating students' achievements.”
When the campuses last year canceled the in-person spring ceremonies - and far less was known about how the COVID pandemic would play out - officials projected it would be a one-time change. Promising to honor graduates just the same this spring - albeit virtually - UI administrators recognized many of last spring's graduates had planned to participate in-person this year instead.
'We acknowledge the disappointment of our graduates who were unable to attend an in-person commencement ceremony in spring or fall 2020 due to the pandemic and planned to participate in May 2021,” UI officials said earlier. 'The university will reach out to these graduates regarding opportunities to be recognized at future in-person programs to celebrate their accomplishments.”
The UI graduated 5,473 undergraduate, graduate and professional students last spring; ISU graduated 5,094; and UNI graduated 1,422.
On large gatherings, the Iowa Department of Public Health references recently-updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance urging against events and gatherings. However, in a Feb. 5 health order, Gov. Kim Reynolds lifted restrictions on the size of gatherings but said 'I strongly encourage” organizers to take 'reasonable measures under the circumstances” to mitigate spread of the disease.
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