Although Canal Winchester Schools leaders and students alike were hoping for an in-person graduation at the conclusion of the academic year, the district has opted for a virtual ceremony because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent James Sotlar said he, along with Canal Winchester High School principal Kirk Henderson and school board members, “want nothing more” than a traditional graduation ceremony for the class of 2020.

“However, we are in the middle of a health pandemic that is affecting people across the world, causing us to live our daily lives differently,” Sotlar wrote in an April 27 letter to district families. “This was not an easy decision to make, and my heart breaks for our seniors, but this is the best decision and in the best interests for everyone’s health, wellness and safety.”

According to Sotlar, the district intends to include all the features a high school graduation ceremony normally would.

“We’ll try to replicate the traditional graduation but do it virtually,” he said.

The remote ceremony will include recorded videos of individual students in caps and gowns walking across the school’s gym stage to receive their diplomas and have their pictures taken. To film these segments, each student, along with up to four guests, will be assigned a specific time on May 12, 13 or 14 during which their portions of the ceremony will be filmed.

The segments will be edited together for the final graduation video, with recordings of an introduction by Henderson, the valedictorian’s speech, a presentation of the class by the senior class secretary and an acknowledgment of graduation by the senior class president.

The graduation video will be livestreamed at 11 a.m. May 30.

Sotlar said the video format is the best way to move forward, and it was chosen after extensive consideration.

“We’ve had several conversations,” he said. “I’ve called other school districts. We believe everyone is going to be very similar to what we’re doing now because having a mass gathering any time within the next few months does not seem likely, so we have to do what’s best for our kids so they can move forward with their future.”

Although the class of 2020 won’t be able to hold its traditional senior walk, the district is considering swapping it for a potential senior parade in which students drive a route together in their cars through Canal Winchester.

School board member Monika Talley noted her support of the parade during the board’s virtual meeting April 20.

“I really like the idea of the senior parade, just kind of referencing the staff parade that happened earlier in April,” she said. “I know that the students were really excited; they were happy to see their teachers go through the neighborhoods, and I thought that was a very nice idea.”

Sotlar said although large gatherings are not possible currently, if these restrictions change in the next several months, an additional gathering of the school’s graduating seniors isn’t out of the question.

Furthermore, the district has put together several displays of appreciation for the class of 2020.

Every Monday evening at 8:20 p.m., athletics director Pat Durbin sets the stadium scoreboard to 20 minutes and 20 seconds, with the score set at 20 to 20 to honor the class.

Additionally, the school’s new gym will be dedicated to the class of 2020.

“This is different. You feel for them,” Sotlar said of graduating seniors.

“You know this is not how they wanted to end their senior year, so we have to do everything we can to make it the best for them. We’re thinking about everything we can possibly do.”