It is unkown if Westerville City Schools' class of 2020 will be recognized during traditional graduation ceremonies because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but district leaders have pledged to celebrate the seniors one way or another.
Superintendent John Kellogg said district officials have rescheduled dates for graduation ceremonies for all three of the district's high schools at the Celeste Center on the grounds of the Ohio Expo Center & State Fair, 717 E.17th Ave. in Columbus, from May 23 to June 27.
Those plans could change, however, depending on orders regarding mass gatherings issued by the state of Ohio in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
"We remain optimistic that we will be able to hold a traditional graduation ceremony to celebrate the achievements of our class of 2020, along with their families, yet this year," Kellogg said.
"However, we also realize that even those alternative plans have a good chance of being impacted by future state decisions. Therefore, we continue to work with our board of education on some other ideas to celebrate the class of 2020."
He said the district is considering a senior recognition opportunity and, perhaps, some other graduation-style events during Memorial Day weekend at the end of May.
Westerville school board President Rick Vilardo said he has sympathy for students who are missing memorable times and certainly missing friends.
"We are really thinking hard and talking to people in the community about what can we do to celebrate, affirm and provide moments of joy for our seniors," he said, during an April 20 virtual board meeting.
"We don't know what graduation is going to look like now. Lord willing, we can still have something like that. The Westerville community, I believe, really wants to affirm these students and send them into work, college or a military career with moments of joy, affirmation and a memory."
Vaughn Bell, the board's vice president, said the district's stadiums were lighted for 20 minutes and 20 seconds on April 20 at 8:20 p.m. (20:20 military time) to honor this year's seniors.
"We certainly want to work together to do something special to honor the seniors that will be graduating this year," he said. "We just want them to know how much we truly love them and appreciate them."
Kellogg said he wasn't surprised by Gov. Mike DeWine's decision to keep school buildings closed for the remainder of the academic year.
"The foundation we've established over the past few weeks was built to support an extended closure through the rest of the academic year," he said.
"We anticipated that schools would remain closed, so if nothing else, it's a relief to hear this officially from the governor. Now we, along with our families and staff, can plan accordingly."
He said the district has established a team tasked with working through how the start of the 2020-21 school year may be structured.
"We also remain in touch with other school districts as our respective leadership teams discuss the parameters for next school year," Kellogg said. "School districts throughout the area continue to collaborate on how our educational systems can work to support our students and families during these most unusual times."
The board approved a resolution April 20 that allows the district to continue to practice distance learning for remainder of the school year, Kellogg said.
The resolution said that Ohio Department of Education guidance indicates schools may use "blizzard bags" during the extended school closure, beyond the normal three days, and the board approves the provision of distance learning retroactive to March 16, and continuing through the period of extended school closure because of the coronavirus.
Greg Viebranz, the district's executive director of communications and technology, said the district has completed the third and final phase of its Chromebook-distribution process for distance learning.
He said the district has loaned to students approximately 3,100 Chromebooks and 100 mobile internet hotspots, which allow internet connectivity.
Viebranz said the district is working to secure more mobile hotspots.
He said, there has been no cost for the district to acquire the hotspot devices, and Neighborhood Bridges provided a donation to cover the monthly service cost for the devices.
"There has been no expense to families to borrow and use these devices," Viebranz said.
Kellogg said district updates can be found at westerville.k12.oh.us.