"The event quickly got out of control," designer Erin Condren said in an apology last week

By Jason Duaine Hahn
June 25, 2020 08:17 PM
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LifePlanner creator Erin Condren has apologized after she came under fire for helping to organize a graduation march for high school students amid the Black Lives Matter protests that also went against social distancing guidelines.

After Mira Costa High School announced they were calling off their traditional graduation ceremony this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, members in the upscale Manhattan Beach community began thinking of alternative events to allow students to celebrate together, Easy Reader News reported.

Condren — the founder of the massively popular planner notebook company, Erin Condren Designs — said one of their ideas included providing hula hoops for all 687 seniors at a local beach.

"If the authorities said it was an illegal gathering, they could start hula hooping and say it was an exercise class," Condren — whose children were graduating from the school — told Easy Reader.

This school moved forward with an official graduation ceremony earlier this month, which saw students practice social distancing by remaining in their cars. Students even received face masks in the school's colors.

While the ceremony was similar to other events thrown by high schools around the country during the pandemic, it's what happened after that has become the subject of controversy.

Just an hour after the school's event ended, hundreds of Mira Costa students marched in their graduation gowns for more than a mile at a local beach. Pictures posted to social media show social distancing was not followed during the gathering and only a few students wore masks.

Erin Condren Designs and Mira Costa High School did not immediately reply to PEOPLE's request for comment. The improvised event received swift blowback from the community as the pictures spread online.

"This is ridiculous. Not proud to be a graduate from Costa," Instagram user Donni Donavan wrote. "This is embarrassing. Thank god I'm not actually from Manhattan Beach!"

Resident Jamie Danis said the march served to reveal the disconnect between the affluent community and the country's pressing issues.

"This is completely ridiculous. Though there have also been protests in Manhattan Beach over the last few weeks, there’s a vast gulf separating people protesting for human rights and seniors celebrating their graduation," she said on Instagram. "A celebration is non-essential. Human lives are essential. Also, if people protesting for the most basic of human rights can wear face masks, so can graduating high school seniors."

"But to celebrate in spite of the risks posed to our community is sheer entitlement," she added.

The intensifying criticism led Condren to publish a lengthy apology on June 18 for her part in planning the event, which she says was supposed to be a "safe, socially distanced walk" for students.

"I want to acknowledge and apologize for my role in an event that happened after my kids’ high school graduation last week," she wrote on Instagram. "I helped plan what was supposed to be a safe, socially distanced walk. All seniors were provided masks at the graduation ceremony, and the intention was to allow them a special moment to safely recognize this milestone. The event quickly got out of control. Most did not wear masks nor practice social distancing, which is unacceptable during a pandemic."

"I recognize that this was a major error of judgment on my part," she continued. "I want to clarify that this graduation walk was in no way registered, associated with, or guised as a BLM protest."

Condren said the march was conceived after her daughter participated in a Black Lives Matter protest where nearly everyone wore masks.

"The Black Lives Matter movement is of the utmost importance to me and my family and has no relation whatsoever to my own irresponsible behavior," she continued in the statement. "In no way was this event meant to minimize or diminish the powerful, just, and necessary movement of Black Lives Matter. I understand that many are rightfully offended by this event and I am deeply sorry."

“We didn’t know that they were not going to respect the COVID directions,” Mira Costa High School Vice Principal Deborah Hofreiter told CBS Los Angeles. “But, you know, they’re kids.”

“The kids were instructed to stay 6 feet apart and wear masks,” Hofreiter said. “They’re 18, they haven’t seen their friends in three months, so they did none of that.”

The outrage around the march led Erin Condren Designs to announce they were temporarily parting with Condren, who is taking a leave of absence from the company.

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"While the company was not aware of or involved in the graduation event, we understand why many people are angry and disappointed int the role our namesake played. She has now taken a leave of absence from the company," the company's CEO, Tonia Misvaer, said in a statement on Saturday. "We are now mandating implicit bias training for everyone in leadership."

"This is a moment for which all of us will be held accountable," she added. "I promise one thing to our customers: our company will not let you down again."