Hunter Jackson

Lyon County High School graduate Hunter Jackson waves to onlookers amid a downpour during Saturday’s Parade of Seniors through Fredonia. The procession honored seniors from three school districts — Lyon, Caldwell and Crittenden counties — who live in the Fredonia Valley area.

School officials in Lyon County are still holding out for a somewhat normal graduation service for the Class of 2020, which has endured a rather abnormal finish to their compulsory education.

At Monday’s Lyon County Board of Education meeting, Superintendent of Schools Russ Tilford and high school Principal Tom Radivonyk held to their hope for being able to provide in-person commencement for the county’s 58 graduating public school seniors. Graduation ceremonies were originally scheduled for this week, but restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic thwarted those plans.

A number of efforts have already been made to accommodate recognition for graduates, including a popular senior parade earlier this month. Other area school districts have already held or plan to offer virtual or drive-through graduation ceremonies. But Lyon County officials believe time may permit them to offer in-person commencement for students and their families.

“Movie theaters and churches can now open,” Tilford said. “In my opinion — and it’s just that, an opinion — if you can have those type gatherings, if we can meet the health requirements that those have, I think we can do it.”

It could even be August before a ceremony takes place, Tilford said. If a normal commencement does take place, students will likely be limited to a number of guests, perhaps two each with valedictorians and salutatorian allowed maybe a couple more. Even with that, the superintendent estimated about 200 people, when including staff, would be in attendance, making social distancing a challenge.

Any plan arrived at by the district would have to be approved by state public health officials. Tilford said the district has been in discussion with interim Pennyrile District Health Department Director Jim Tolley about formulating a plan.

“It means a lot to get those students across the stage and let them graduate as a class, but it is also important to consider health and safety,” Tilford said.

Radivonyk said a combined baccalaureate-class night program would be presented virtually the day before graduation, whatever date is set. The service would be presented as a YouTube Live video from the graduation stage, announcing honors and scholarship recipients.

How the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year starts is still anyone’s question to answer Tilford said. That’s why the board of education approved the superintendent’s request to apply for non-traditional instruction (NTI) days for the coming year.

The district had never used nor even applied for NTI days prior to the state granting all 172 school districts in March the right to use NTI to finish out the 2019-20 school year upon closure of all education facilities statewide. The normal limit on NTI days is 10 per school year, but Tilford said the days, if approved, would be used only in extreme situations.

After a successful seven weeks to close out the just-completed year under NTI, Tilford likes the idea of having that tool in the toolbox for the coming school calendar, if needed.

“They’ve really made it work,” he said of students, staff and parents.

Radivonyk said daily NTI participation by high school students started strong at 89%, but waned over the next few weeks down to 82% before rebounding to 88% the final week of school.

“We were really worried about graduating some of those seniors,” Radivonyk told board members. “Some of them disappeared.”

However, he said Guidance Counselor Deanna Doom put a system in place early enough to save them. In fact, all 58 seniors will be receiving a diploma.

In other action:

  • School officials report all but two Chromebooks — one each at the middle and high schools — used to close out the school year with NTI have been returned by students to their respective schools. And administrators believe they will soon have the final two returned.
  • Lyon County School District employees will not be getting a raise next year. The board OK’d a plan to keep the salary schedule unchanged, largely due to financial uncertainties caused by the pandemic. However, employees received a 2% increase last year and 1% bumps in several year prior.