Eagle County Schools: Prom and graduation to go on (almost) as normal | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Schools: Prom and graduation to go on (almost) as normal

School board discusses what the end of year will look like for high school students

Members of Battle Mountain High School's choir perform ”Prayer of the Children” during last year’s virtual commencement ceremony.
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Even with a recent influx of positive COVID-19 cases and quarantines, Eagle County Schools is optimistic and planning for (almost) normal prom and graduation ceremoneies for the areas’ high schools.

This decision is aided in large part by the evolving state and county mandates. On Friday, Colorado’s coronavirus dial expires, leaving it up to local communities to decide what restrictions are right for them regarding Eagle County has said that it hopes to lift restrictions by May 27 — one day before Eagle County starts hosting its graduations.

According to Katie Jarnot, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Eagle County Schools, the plans are beginning to come together for graduation. “The public health orders will allow us to have a pretty normal graduation and the capacity limits will be lifted in such a way that we will be able to allow anyone who wants to attend, to attend,” she said at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

The county still has to get Eagle County Public Health to approve the layout for various commencement ceremonies — which will look a little different from normal years to allow for social distancing and safe practices. The only other changes noted were that masks will be required at the ceremonies and there may be some differences in how diplomas are handed out.

In addition, Eagle County Public Health has already approved both Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain proms. “Except for the locations, it is going to seem very normal,” Jarnot said.

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Eagle Valley High School’s prom will be held at the Eagle River Center at the fairgrounds. Battle Mountain High School’s will be held outdoors on the Battle Mountain campus. Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy will be joining the Battle Mountain prom. According to Jarnot, the schools will be able to accommodate Red Canyon High School as well, but no formal plans have been made.

Similar to graduation, the schools’ have been approved for a large-enough capacity so that all students interested can attend prom. All attendees will be required to wear masks.

“[Eagle County Public Health] truly, and we truly, want students to have a normal end of the year experience,” Jarnot said. “I definitely don’t want to be watching a virtual graduation, weeping, this year, because that’s what happened last year.”

Return to normal

As the district’s high schools near the end of the year, there has been some pressure from parents to move to four days of in-person learning at both Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain instead of continuing with the hydrid schedule that has been in place. At Wednesday’s meeting, the board conducted a discussion, but made no decisions, as to whether this was a possibility. Parent, teacher, principal and student advocates from both Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley spoke about how they wanted the school year to end.

Both Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley have been on a hybrid schedule since the beginning of the school year, with students attending in-person classes two days a week and online classes two days a week.

For the most part, parents — speaking through letters written to the board — advocated for moving to four days of in-person learning to minimize learning loss, maximize students’ socialization and education and prioritize mental health.

Only one parent at the meeting spoke in opposition, agreeing with the arguments of many students, administrators and teachers.

Both principals from Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley conducted student surveys, which showed the majority — 60 percent at Battle Mountain and 75 percent at Eagle Valley — of students wanted to remain in a hybrid schedule. The reasons for staying in the hybrid schedule included COVID-19 and health-related concerns and having already developed schedules and routines. Some said they didn’t want to deal with stress of changing the schedule this late in the year.

Students from the Eagle Valley High School Students Promoting Inclusion and Civic Engagement club echoed these sentiments in a statement to the board.

For the minority of students in these principal-collected surveys, going to a four-day a week schedule would allow them to be more academically engaged, foster a greater sense of culture and community and improve some of the social-emotional problems facing students this year.

Speaking as a teacher representative from Battle Mountain, Sandy Borel said a survey of 90 teachers indicated that 82 percent thought they should remain in a hybrid schedule. The reasons given by teachers included an inability of the school to follow Center for Disease Control guidelines for social distancing if all students returned and a complete disruption in the schedule and routine for both teachers and students.

“The biggest concern that teachers are having is — and teachers want to see and want to teach their kids — that we know that whenever there’s a disruption to learning, it takes time to recover. It takes time to establish a presence that facilitates learning,” said Doug Little, a teacher at Eagle Valley. “I think it would be a disservice to a lot of our students if we ask them to disrupt their lives again, because routine is important.”

Superintendent Phil Qualman did warn that there’s a possibility a return to a full schedule could jeopardize prom, graduation, award ceremonies and playoffs in sports. Qualman cited Douglas County School District, which recently returned to a full schedule after spring break and within 10 days had to shift three high schools to a fully remote schedule due to outbreaks. The school district is currently experiencing its highest number of COVID-19 cases, 32, all year.

“We want to see our families at graduation and we want to dance with our friends at prom,” said James Garcia, an Eagle Valley student in SPICE.

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