As the effects of COVID-19 continue to disrupt operations at Stillwater Area Public Schools, the school board and administration grapple with how to address the future impacts to schedules and finances.

During the April 23 board meeting, superintendent Denise Pontrelli told the board that schools will remain closed through the end of the school year, as directed by Governor Tim Walz. As students and staff are unable to come together, events such as graduation have been put on hold. The school board also voted April 23 to implement a hiring freeze until May 15 until the district understands how COVID-19 will impact future state funding and the district’s budget.

“This is not how we wanted the year to end, “ Pontrelli said. “One thing we have learned through all of this is that our community is strong, resilient and compassionate.”

Stillwater Area High School principal Rob Bach gave the board an update on how the annual graduation ceremony could look like. He told the board a group of seniors that applied to a graduation committee meet to come up with idea.

“It was a super bittersweet meeting,” Bach said. “We knew we were talking about things that were obviously not going to be our first choice.”

Bach told the board that there were some options that were discussed and are being investigated. Some of these options include a virtual ceremony with students driving through to pick up their diplomas, a ceremony at Pony Stadium with classmates sitting 6-feet apart or holding the traditional ceremony at a future date. Bach said that the district has set aside dates at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul for July 20 and Aug. 1.

“Along the timeline, some of these may not be options,” Bach said. “Public health is paramount in whatever decision we end up making.”

Staff hiring freeze

As a financial precaution due to COVID-19, the board approved a freeze on hiring new staff — excluding teachers and special education paraprofessionals — until May 15. This action affects other paraprofessional positions, custodial staff and the open position for assistant superintendent.

“I don’t think it is super controversial to say that the economic outlook due to this pandemic is very unknown right now,” said board chair Sarah Stivland.

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