Uncertainty continues. But so do our schools.

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Uncertainty continues. But so do our schools.As uncertainty relating to COVID-19 shutdowns and associated impacts continue, Sierra Sands Unified School District moves forward in its mission to educate by focusing on “teaching and reaching” students through the newly defined distance-learning model.

Like all California school districts, Sierra Sands closed its campus March 17 on Gov. Newsom’s orders. During the ensuing weeks, state guidance on the timeline for campus closures and the shape of “continuity of instruction” evolved — ultimately resulting in teachers and administrators crafting a remote curriculum that would take students through the end of the term.

With no more significant adjustments to that model, students and teachers are working through the growing pains and focusing on completion of that coursework, said Dr. David Ostash, superintendent of SSUSD.

“As far as instruction is concerned, we are in that work-mode part of the cycle,” he said.

However, there are other elements of education that continue to inhibit planning.

State and county education offices have warned districts that economic impacts of the shelter-at-home directives will deeply impact school funding.

Unknown guidance for how and when the governor’s orders prohibiting gatherings will be lifted have also left plans for graduation in the lurch.

Ostash noted that three of SSUSD’s top four officials each have a graduating senior this year — so the possibility of having to forgo a traditional ceremony has impacted administrators on a personal level as well as a professional one.

“We all want to plan a celebration that suitably honors our seniors, but have no guidance on how to plan or any idea what the constraints will look like in the next four to five weeks,” he said.

“There are the two ends of the spectrum, and everything in between. On one is the hope and belief that we will be able to hold a traditional ceremony, even if it has to be delayed,” said Ostash.

“On the other end we have some virtual form of commencement,” which lacks the kind of ceremony and energy that you expect from the culmination of a 13-year achievement, he said.

Middle schools are working toward some form of drive-through processional that allows Murray and Monroe students to participate in a promotion ceremony.

Mesquite and Burroughs high schools are so different, said Ostash, that those schools are considering different options.

“Just as of this week, the consensus of the 25 Mesquite graduates is to wait until they can hold a ceremony in the Kerr McGee Center,” he said. “They are small and agile and they have the ability to choose that for their school.

But for the hundreds of Burroughs graduates, and the thousands who typically attend the exercise, they have they have fewer options. “Depending on how long you defer the ceremony, are we going to see the spirit and energy at the end of the term start to wane?” asked Ostash.

“Then there are logistical challenges. Will all 300-plus graduates actually be here to participate?”

He said the venue is also an obstacle, since the BHS Stadium is the only one large enough to accommodate the crowd. “Maybe in San Luis Obispo they can have an outdoor ceremony in June or December, but here in the desert we have extreme heat and cold to contend with.”

So the graduation committee is looking at some compromise that allows for some in-person ceremony that breaks graduates and their families into smaller groups to allow for distancing.

“Of course we are still waiting to see if this will even be permissible at the end of May,” said Ostash. “We are basing a lot of our hopes on information that isn’t available. And we don’t even know when it will be available.”

Story First Published: 2020-05-01