School district considers spring student events in light of COVID-19

As COVID-19 cases continue to drop and vaccinations rise, the San Juan School District is closely monitoring what the changes may mean for the district.

At the February 10 school board meeting, distract staff discussed spring activities, including extra-curriculars, graduation ceremonies, and prom, as well as the possibility of students in the River Region schools to return to in-person learning.

San Juan Schools located on the Navajo Nation have operated under health orders from the Navajo Nation during the pandemic. As a result, schools in Montezuma Creek, Bluff, Monument Valley, and Navajo Mountain have been providing distance learning since March 2020.

From August to November, the students on the Navajo Nation were allowed to go in for one-on-one masked meetings with teachers to help with their work. That ended in November after COVID-19 cases jumped up on the Navajo Nation.

Since that time, the school district has reported that student performance has dropped in these schools.

Now, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez is considering an infection threshold to bring students back to school.

The specifics of the threshold communities would have to reach to return to in-person learning have not been released. Potential factors to consider could include the rate of spread, active cases, and vaccination rates.

Depending on the threshold, schools located on the Navajo Nation in San Juan County could be back to in-person learning in the coming months.

Board member Nelson Yellowman expressed support of the idea of a threshold as it would “get our students back in schools, to get on track, and caught up.”

Part of that catching up may include summer school options for students and their families.

As cases have gone down on the Navajo Nation, some services have begun to be offered again to students. The Department of Diné Education recently ruled that students in special education programs can return to schools to receive needed services.

At the February 10 meeting, the board also received an update on spring activities for schools in the district which are holding in-person learning.

Superintendent Ron Nielson reports that state officials are discussing the possibility of activities such as prom and graduation, and how to hold them safely.

Although no official decision had been made by the state, Nielson suggested the district wait until they see what state officials recommend.

“I really think we’re going to be allowed to have proms with safeguards in place,” said Nielson. “I believe we will be consistent if we [follow state guidelines] because that’s what we’ve done under every scenario.”

The district is close to implementing the project that would bring internet to many isolated homes in the southern portion of the district.

The Local Area Network (LAN) project is being funded largely by CARES Act funds. When Congress extended the funds, it also allowed the project to continue forward.

The project will provide WiFi access by using large radio towers to communicate with smaller towers and finally to end satellite locations at many isolated homes in the district.

The district expects the first few homes to have operational internet from the district in the coming weeks.

In other business, the board also voted to allow district property north of Monticello High School to be designated for use by district Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

The land was the location of a district-owned house which was demolished this summer. The district CTE programs plan includes garden space, use of a shed, and the potential creation of a greenhouse.

The district also discussed the fee waiver programs, which set a maximum for out-of-pocket fees to participate in various extracurricular activities.

Public comments included students from Monticello High School who asked that prom be held this year. Two Blanding parents also gave public comment.

One said teachers wearing masks negatively impacts their children’s learning, while the other thanked the district for the efforts to prevent the spread of the disease.

San Juan Record

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