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School board discusses grad plans, procedures at special meeting

By Staff | May 15, 2020

The Rugby Public School Board voted to set aside the weekend of May 22-24 for high school graduation in response to requests from seniors to hold a traditional ceremony.

In the special meeting held online April 30, Rugby High School Principal Jared Blikre told the board he had met online with the class of 2020 to gauge their interest in the end-year school activities they had looked forward to.

“The senior class overwhelmingly wants a traditional graduation, or at least as traditional as possible,” Blikre said. “We talked about a virtual (graduation) as a possibility, too, and I don’t think anyone was in favor of that.”

Blikre said a traditional ceremony was “what they want; that’s what we want as well. We’d like to stick with our date of May 24 if possible. I think everybody would like that, but we’re still waiting for guidance from the state.”

State guidelines are expected to allow more social events on a gradual basis beginning this month, but measures such as social distancing – maintaining a space of at least six feet between people – will likely still be taken.

Rugby Public Schools Superintendent Mike McNeff said aspects such as the event location, number of guests and weather needed to taken into account.

“What does that look like?” he asked about the graduation ceremony. “(A concern is) doing that in a way that follows health guidelines.”

“Currently, we have, I think 45 students graduating,” McNeff said. “Are there ways we could socially distance them on a football field, in a large open space outside? I think so. Are there ways to limit the group size where we only invite immediate family to that and we broadcast the ceremony on Youtube or Facebook Live or something like that? We could pull that off.”

Other suggestions for venues included large green spaces such as the Rugby golf course.

Board member Kris Blessum asked if using an indoor venue was possible.

“I think it comes down to the site. I was on a call yesterday with (the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction),” McNeff noted. “We should not be bringing kids onsite, and some schools have been doing that. Unless that guidance changes, maybe then we could push for an indoor. I think we’d push for an outdoor at this point. We were talking to Mandan superintendents. They do an outdoor graduation every year and they make a decision by 9 (the morning of the event) whether it’s going to be inside or outside.”

The board also discussed technology issues for the event, which included making the ceremony easily accessible for grandparents and extended family members.

“Maybe it’s something we have a live version and we put it on a storage disc and it can be given out to the seniors after the event,” McNeff suggested.

Blikre told the board he also asked the RHS seniors about other postponed activities.

“I talked to the seniors about prom and surprisingly, very few were even concerned about prom,” Blikre noted. “I know most regional schools are not having a prom. We’ve talked about how all of our events are technically postponed and we haven’t canceled any of that stuff yet, but in talking to the seniors, only a couple were even concerned with prom at all.”

The board decided to cancel the prom.

“We will focus specifically on graduation and pulling that off,” McNeff said.

The board also discussed moving funds from Rugby High School’s business education program to create a family and consumer science program beginning next year.

The board approved a motion to hire a part-time family and consumer science teacher and build a curriculum based on life skills.

“Some of the classes we’d potentially like to offer are child development, parenting, independent living and just an introduction to family and consumer sciences as well, like foods and advanced foods and classes like that,” Blikre said.

McNeff also presented a draft of a plan to guide North Dakota schools for re-opening after their closure this spring.

McNeff showed the group flow charts with protocol for dealing with COVID-19 positive individuals in school buildings. He also detailed measures for containment when the virus was detected, which included closing buildings for 2-5 days and disinfecting all surfaces.

“At some point in probably a lot of schools, there’s going to be tricky going forward the next school year,” McNeff said. ” At some point in a lot of schools, there’s going to be confirmed people, whether it’s staff or students.”

The plan divided re-opening, or re-entry into three phases, which include keeping desks and students six feet apart, which McNeff said would pose problems at Ely Elementary.

Other features of the plan include keeping students in small groups at the middle and high school level and rotating teachers between classrooms instead of moving students.

During the early phases of the process, individuals in vulnerable groups would continue to stay home, McNeff told the group.

“The number one question we have right now is what phase are we in?” McNeff asked. “I think we’re in a decline,” he added.

Board member Dustin Hager, a health care practitioner at Heart of America Medical Center Johnson Clinic, told the board, “Statistically speaking, North Dakota’s been about two weeks behind every place else. I guarantee if the state reopens Friday, the next two weeks are going to be the defining point, whether we’re going up and down.”

Gov. Doug Burgum announced in a press conference last Friday that North Dakota schools would remain closed and continue their distance learning programs through the end of the school year.

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