THE NEXT STAGE
District approves graduation venue change, cites liability and accessibility
September 24, 2019
Graduation for RJUHSD’s five comprehensive high schools will move this year to the Placer Valley Event Center, as opposed to the traditional location on each school’s campus. The RJUHSD board of trustees voted to approve the venue change during the board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 10.
During the last week of May, the district plans to hold two graduations on Thursday and three on Friday, though the exact order and times are to be determined. Moving to the event center guarantees attendees air-conditioning and weather protection, as well as more parking and seating than was previously available at each individual campus. Guests can also see graduating students on a live video feed of the stage playing on screens around the venue
According to RJUHSD superintendent Denise Herrmann, the ticket increase will vary by school and will be determined in the forthcoming weeks. Roseville High School principal Nicholas Richter said at RHS, it could mean each student gets approximately two additional tickets.
At the board meeting, four RJUHSD students spoke against approving the change; all three student representatives for the board also disapproved, speaking for schools’ traditions and the students’ emotional connection to the campus. The board approved the change in a 3-2 vote.
In response to the board’s decision, RHS junior and student government press commissioner Nick Dominguez started a petition to move graduation back to schools’ respective campuses. As of Friday night, the petition had over 6,000 signatures. RHS students also held a walkout during a ROAR educational support period on the Friday following the vote. Students left their classrooms to sit on the tiger paw on Hanson field, where seniors used to graduate before the change.
Senior class vice president Mady Nickerson spoke at the board meeting against moving graduation and is working to spread the word of the petition.
“I don’t think the board is properly voicing the students’ voices, which is what they need to do,” Nickerson said. “We have spoken out for this long about it. They need to realize that we don’t want to back down. We want to keep graduation at our home.”
According to Nickerson, Richter also offered to give any letters students write about moving graduation to the school board.
Board member Scott Huber put forward the motion to approve the change, suggesting the district approach the issue from a “liability” and “accessibility” standpoint. According to Huber, at least one person has collapsed from heat stroke or dehydration every year for the last several years. He said moving graduation to an air-conditioned facility would make it safer and easier for guests with disabilities or health conditions to attend.
“I wasn’t elected to make popular decisions,” Huber said at the board meeting. “I was elected to make hard decisions… I’m surprised we haven’t been sued a number of times over this. When was the last time an ambulance wasn’t used at one of these graduations for heat stroke?”
Each school site pays for its own graduation expenses through the school budget, which can cost around $15,000 to $25,000, according to Herrmann. Assistant superintendent of business services Joe Landon said the district will pay for the Placer Valley Event Center, meaning each school can use the money usually spent on graduation elsewhere. In holding all five graduations at one venue, the district expects to save around $50,000.
In August, the district emailed students, staff and parents a survey for their input on moving graduation. The majority of parents and staff who filled out the survey responded favorably. Students’ responses were more divided – just over half of the students said they wanted to stay on their school’s campus. However, only 4% of RJUHSD students responded to the survey.
Board member Andrew Tagg voted against moving the graduation this school year, in part due to the low student input. He suggested waiting and reserving the event center for next year, so this year’s seniors could graduate on campus and juniors and underclassmen could acclimate to the change.
“There was still a lot of unanswered questions on logistics – plus doing it a month into the new school year I thought was unfair for seniors,” Tagg said. “I would rather take a little more time ironing out some of those details… I just thought there was not really a need to rush this through.”
According to Landon, the district is currently working with Placer Valley Tourism to negotiate a multi-year agreement. They must circumvent the pre-established schedules of each school site to determine the order for the five schools’ graduations. A team that includes principals and assistant principals from each site is working to plan graduation at the new venue.
Students can continue to hold certain fundraisers at the event center, though options are more limited as the fundraisers should not overlap with services, such as selling water, that are already provided by the venue, according to Landon. However, he is currently working with the center to discuss the possibility of some of the proceeds from its services going toward the schools. Although the outcome didn’t go their way, Huber said he is glad the students are speaking up for what they believe in.
“I am very proud of every one of those students. They were taking part in what makes this country great and what makes our government run, which is listening to the voices of the people,” Huber said. “The fact that this didn’t go the way that they were hoping doesn’t mean that we aren’t listening to them. We are listening to them and their opinions are important to us.”
According to Herrmann, certain school-wide “traditions” – like hosting choir or band performances – could be carried on in the indoor facility – and the technology at the event center could offer the opportunity to try something new.
“We are thinking ‘Here’s what we’ve done in the past. Here’s how all of those things would fit in this space.’ And then also brainstorming some new ideas,” Herrmann said. “I want those new ideas to be things that students feel would be making the ceremony as personable as possible.”
Herrmann said that one of the high schools she worked at as a principal before coming to RJUHSD had to hold graduation at an off-campus, indoor venue for a year, and initially people were “reluctant.” After that year, however, people did not want to move it back.
“My inbox was flooded with people saying ‘We didn’t think we were going to like it, but we really, really liked it and we want to have it here again next year,’” Herrmann said. “And so I know that this is something that, until you’ve experienced it and know some of the benefits, it can be hard to imagine things being different and still being good.”