On Monday night, the St. James school board heard from senior students and parents who voiced their opinions over the district's choice to hold a virtual commencement on May 31st.

The decision came following a statement from the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Education, and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education on Friday.

"I would like to emphasize that I know the decisions made to have a virtual graduation were made out of concern for safety," said Briar Lenz, a senior student. "And that's a valid reason. But we're here tonight to at least bring up some suggestions and our ideas for what we can do to actually have a real graduation that would also have considerations for the safety of everyone at graduation."

Lenz proposed still having a virtual commencement, but choose a date later in the summer for an actual graduation.

Another proposal was to have families in their vehicles show up to a large, open, public setting, such as the Fairgrounds, and set up a stage for students to walk across one at a time to receive their diplomas.

"How much have we done to hopefully ask or be creative with the Department of Health and the Department of Education in helping our students rather than just moving forward with this virtual (commencement)," asked senior parent Kara Anderson.

"To me, it's a very anti-climactic ending to the hard work all of these kids have done for their entire lives."

 Unlike other guidelines that the state has handed down to school districts, the guidelines for graduation expressed explicitly that "indoor graduations and ceremonies held outside the stadiums and football fields are not permitted."  

"That's the first time I've heard as principal the MDE come out with that strong of a language," said Principal Karla Beck. "Everything else has been 'strongly recommended', 'highly encouraged'. It's definitive. It's not permitted."

The school also sent out a survey to parents and students asking what they would prefer for graduation. The results of the survey came out to 60% to 40% that students would prefer a June graduation and 55%-45% that parents would prefer the June date.

"The support of students and parents should really say something about the decision we would like as a class," said Jackson Miest. "I feel like we should have a say in how we are going to have our graduation."

Briar Lenz proposed a plan to have a graduation date later in the summer, in either July or August.

"It's a milestone," said Lenz. "Graduation is a milestone. And having it on a computer screen does not cement that chapter of your life into a memory."

Board chair Richard Spitzner brought up those going into the workforce and the military and their availability for a graduation. Spitzner questioned the excitement level of a graduation if the ceremony was pushed all the way back later into the summer.

Spitzner also read off guidance for commencements taking place in vehicles, that students are not authorized to get out of the vehicle and walk across a stage.

Liability issues are also a concern if a participant of the ceremony contracts COVID-19 due to attendance at commencement. 

Superintendent Becky Cselovszki proposed an alternative of having graduations at each house for each student to receive a diploma.

"Students and parents just want closure, even if it's delayed," said Lenz.

School administration will continue to meet with the concerned parents and senior class.

Following the discussion, the board heard from Greg Crowe regarding bids for bonds for the tennis court project.

The district received four bids, with the lowest bid having a 1.54% interest rate from Woodlands National Bank in Hinckley.

The cost of borrowing through the life of the bonds came in at $60,000 under than projected in the pre-sale report. The bond payments will come out of facility maintenance revenue. It is not an additional tax levy. 

The upfront cost of $904,000 is financed over seven-year bond payments. The district will receive the funds on June 4th.

At the end of the meeting, principals Karla Beck and Liam Dawson shared updates from St. James High School and Northside Elementary.

Karla Beck shared news that the 10th-grade chef's project received a gold star of innovation award. Beck also shared that Agriculture teacher and FFA Advisor Becky Cronk was the state recipient of the "Turn The Key" Award. Her application will be submitted to the National Association of Agricultural Educators.

Beck also introduced a new first responders class. After students complete in the class, they will be able to assist EMS and fire on service calls.

Beck noted that there are 27 seniors who are failing a required course, even with the new grading scale.

"Saying that distance working is working for our juniors and seniors is really tough," said Beck. "Some of them are in charge of their households. A lot of them are making money for their homes, some are working double shifts. My goal is to get 27 seniors across the finish line so they can get their diploma."

Northside Principal Liam Dawson gave updates from National Teachers Week, highlighted by the Northside Drive-Up.

Northside will also be holding conferences for the last week of school.

The next board meeting is scheduled for June 8th. 

Other approved items:

- Approve the request for maternity leave for Arica Connell for Trimester I of the 2020-2021 School Year

- Approve the request for maternity leave for Holly Connell beginning upon the birth of her child in July 2020

- Approve the 2020 Food Service Program Staffing Proposal

- Approve the 2020-2021 Food Service Management Company bid with Taher

- Approve Liam Dawson as the LEA District Rep for federal funds- in the past has been Becky- typically writes title grants, majority of title program at Northside

- Resolution to non-renew a teaching contract for any non-licensed individual - teachers on tiered licensure

- Approve a Resolution calling for the election of School Board members at the General Election on Tuesday, November 3, 2020

- Approve a Resolution for Membership in the Minnesota State High School League for 2020-2021

- First reading of the updated Wellness Policy

- Approve the updated Crisis Plan