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After outcry, Maui’s Baldwin High reverses ban on lei-giving at graduation

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PC: Courtesy Taija Hara

A significant reversal for graduating seniors who have endured years of pandemic restrictions, Baldwin High School recently repealed its ban on lei-giving at this year’s graduation ceremony.

Charito Dae Richardson, Baldwin parent, said the restriction was lifted during a BHS announcement Wednesday.

A groundswell of support for lei-giving at 2022 ceremonies sparked an online petition with more than 1,000 signatures that launched less than a week ago.

Parents, students and others have decried the restriction, saying that lei-giving is a traditional and essential part of Hawai’i graduations. Mayor Michael Victorino told Maui Now that local graduates should be celebrated with lei because they have gone through enough of the pandemic challenges.

First reported by KITV, Baldwin High principal Keoni Wilhelm announced in a letter to senior parents April 12 on COVID-19 guidelines for commencement that lei would be banned before, during or after graduation ceremonies, including in the parking lot. The graduation ceremony is slated May 20.

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Wilhelm told Maui Now last week that the letter was valid then but that he had to check with the State Department of Health and the mayor first before commenting on whether it would remain official.

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State DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani told Maui Now on Wednesday that Wilhelm was reconsidering the ban.

“We want our graduates to be able to celebrate their graduation with family and friends in a way that honors our island traditions,” Wilhelm said in a statement. “With graduation still more than four weeks away, we are looking at how we might be able to incorporate lei-giving while maintaining the safety of all participants. Any updates will be shared with students and families.”

Kalani said DOE did not have specific restrictions on lei-giving and that it was up to each school how it would implement COVID-19 guidelines encouraging distancing and safety during ceremonies.

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Kalani added that she did not know of any other Maui County high schools considering lei bans. An Oahu public high school also announced a ban on lei then reversed its decision recently.

BHS said that Wilhelm is not in the office today. Maui Now is awaiting confirmation about the decision from the DOE.

Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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