A handful of central Ohio school districts rescheduled their 2020 graduation ceremonies for the summer after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on April 20 announced the closure of public schools for the remainder of the school year.
But for many more districts, including Whitehall City Schools, the governor’s decision was the catalyst for the inevitable step of canceling traditional commencements.
In an April 23 letter to the class of 2020 at Whitehall-Yearling High School, acting principal Crystal Johnson told students the district would have a virtual graduation at 10 a.m. June 6.
Prior to June 6, a time will be scheduled for students to pick up a cap, gown and diploma, wrote Johnson, whose letter appeared to encourage graduates not to let the circumstances dampen their achievement.
“The graduation team is planning a virtual commencement and it’s going to be awesome!” the letter read. “I am working with your teachers and counselors to create a plan to hand your diploma in the most personal and safest way possible.”
Johnson said in the letter that the class of 2020, as her first graduating class, is special.
“I know this is unconventional, but it’s also an opportunity for you to be a part of something that has never been done at Whitehall City Schools,” she wrote.
As for the ceremony itself, the district’s plans include inviting speakers to the school to record speeches and messages that will be broadcasted during the virtual graduation June 6, said Ty Debevoise, director of marketing and communications for Whitehall schools.
About 210 seniors were expected to graduate May 30 at commencement exercises at the school’s football stadium.
It would have been the first time since the class of 1980 – 40 years ago – that the school’s senior class graduated at the school, Debevoise said.
Last year, seniors tossed their caps at Capital University Field House in Bexley. Commencement has been held at several other locations since 1980, Debevoise said.
In addition to the cancellation of a traditional commencement and prom, remote learning will continue throughout the district for the remainder of the academic year.
District Superintendent Brian Hamler said his district accepts the necessity of the decision, which DeWine had signaled was likely after he ordered schools closed through May 1. He first ordered a three-week closure through April 3 before extending the closure to May 1.
But Hamler was clear that remote learning will never be equal to in-person lessons.
“Remote learning can’t replace the quality instruction that happens in a building under normal circumstances,” Hamler said.
Whitehall has 3,400 students enrolled at Whitehall-Yearling High School, Rosemore Middle School, three elementary schools and a preschool, Debevoise said.
“Connecting with some students has been a challenge as some are without devices or (Internet) connectivity in the home,” he said.
On April 18 and 19, the district distributed 475 devices and provided 53 families with hotspots to reach such students, Hamler said.
“By this point, I think our teachers are comfortable with the online tools available to them and have done a remarkable job,” he said. “They have been asked to create online lessons ... in a very short period of time.”
That experience may become important later this year, as it remains unknown what school will look like in August.
“We understand that this may be the new normal for some time – maybe well into (the) next (academic) year,” Hamler said.
“We are currently assessing how this alternative learning is going and planning for a world in which remote learning may be our future until it is safe to come together again,” he said.
DeWine said April 20 no decision has been made about students returning to school in the fall, but did allow for a potential “blended system” of learning.
“There is the possibility that we will have a blended system this fall – some distance learning as well as some in-person learning,” the governor’s Twitter account said.