Virtual graduation to close 2020 school year

The virtual education of local students, mandated by the COVID-19 crisis, will evolve into a virtual graduation for students in the San Juan School District.

At the May 6 meeting of the school board, normal, traditional graduation ceremonies will not be allowed for the Class of 2020. The meeting was held online due to public health issues.

A combination of concerns from state, tribal, and health department entities ruled out just about every option other than a virtual graduation with filmed speakers.

Details are still evolving even as graduation dates are arriving soon. 

Superintendent Ron Nielson said, “Almost every day, new information is coming forward. Things are evolving.”

A letter from Nielson is printed on page A7 of the San Juan Record.

In addition to dealing with the stress of a worldwide public health crisis, the final quarter of high school has been a bitter disappointment for many students.

The board discussed a variety of options but eventually settled on the virtual graduation.

Nielson said some districts are considering a parade that features students in cars.  However, Nielson said the Navajo Nation highly opposes any parade.

Board member Nelson Yellowman suggested the district should have consistent policies. If a parade is not possible in the southern schools, it should not occur anywhere.

“I want to recommend the safest way for everybody,” said Yellowman.  “I am concerned about the elderly.”

The school district faces budget uncertainties related to the pandemic and is unable to move ahead until they receive legislative budget estimates.

The fiscal year for the school district begins on July 1, and the budget is generally approved in June.  There is some discussion that the approvals may be delayed.

In the recently completed legislative session, the Utah State Legislature approved a six-percent increase in the basic funding for each student.

However, the pandemic has caused unprecedented upheaval in the economy.  Preliminary estimates are that the six percent increase will not occur.

While future financial issues have been deferred until budgets are known, the district created three new positions in an adjustment to the district organizational structure. Two assistant superintendent positions were created and will be filled by the current supervisors in the southern and northern schools.

Nielson explained that the current organization “is too flat and has caused challenges.”

He said even though there are financial uncertainties, the timing is good with changes in district leadership.

Board President Lori Maughan said she prefers to look at the changes as an investment and not just as a cost.

In addition, a new Human Resource (HR) Specialist position is similar to a position that was in the district until four years ago.

Nielson said the new position is needed to handle the growing HR demands related to alternative routes to licensure for teachers.

The changes were made as an administrative decision by the superintendent rather than by the board.

San Juan Record

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