Seaside High School is providing the Class of 2021 the opportunity to graduate early in order to move on to the next chapter of their life amid the coronavirus.

“We are going to have essentially two graduation dates that will be effective the end of second trimester and third trimester,” Seaside principal Jeff Roberts told the Seaside School District Board of Directors last week. “These are students that have decided, ‘it’s time.’ They’re ready to take that next step. We want to do all that we can to support them when they’ve met all the graduation requirements we’ve set in front of them.”

According to Roberts, students must be officially provided an effective high school graduation date in order to access certain resources for future opportunities, such as financial aid for college.

There are about 10% to 15% of Seaside seniors who have indicated a desire to graduate early. Roberts believes that number is likely to fluctuate as more information becomes available over the next couple months. If extracurriculars, like sports, are able to resume in the spring, some seniors may choose to stay enrolled to access those activities.

“If, in fact, those appear to not happen, I would expect to see a larger number of students say, ‘I’m done,’” Roberts said. “We’re not going to require students to make that decision until they absolutely need to.”

Another reason for making this decision is that seniors do not have to complete Pacifica Projects as a graduation requirement for the first time in nearly three decades.

Students who choose to graduate in March will still be able to participate in the commencement ceremony at the end of the school year.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to do that in person,” Roberts said.

However, even if it ends up being a socially distanced event, as it was for the Class of 2020, the high school will allow all graduating seniors to take part.

School board member Brian Taylor expressed approval for the school’s decision to offer early graduation, saying it will “allow these kids to move forward during this year.”

During the meeting, the board also approved a request from Superintendent Susan Penrod to continue comprehensive distance learning until at least Feb. 1, at which point leadership will evaluate the current data on COVID-19 case counts.

Penrod’s recommendation was based on Clatsop County’s increasing coronavirus numbers.

“This is sad news,” Penrod said. “We want to see declining cases in order to bring our students back on-site.”

Feb. 1 is approximately halfway through the second trimester for Seaside schools. At that point, the leadership team — comprised of Penrod, school principals and administrative staff — will review whether the case count is declining and “determine if we’re within the range to move to a hybrid model, or if we would need to continue with comprehensive distance learning,” Penrod said.

If the county is within the safe range, the district can begin a two-week preparation period to bring students back on campus for learning.

The two-week preparation is necessary for two reasons, Penrod said. First, the district has made an agreement with the Seaside Education Association to give them adequate time to transition. It allows all departments to made arrangements to safely and effectively serve students in-person.

It also establishes a buffer period. If the data changes within the two-week period, the leadership team has an opportunity to adjust as needed, Penrod said.

Taylor asked whether the recent rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has any impact on the state’s metrics for reopening.

“It gives us hope, I think,” Penrod said. “But no, it doesn’t affect the metrics at this time.”

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