UPDATED: Olentangy Schools holding firm on drive-thru graduation ceremonies
Olentangy Schools' graduation ceremonies will be held in the drive-thru format again this year.
The announcement came in the form of a letter dated March 23 and signed by Superintendent Mark Raiff and the four high school principals.
"In recent weeks, it has become increasingly clear that it would be unlikely that we will be able to gather at The Schottenstein Center in the manner in which was planned due to mandatory cleaning protocols and increased costs. Additionally, The Ohio State University has not cleared outside groups to use their facilities as of today and there is no estimated date of clearance," the letter read.
"We are aware it is important for you to know what the graduation arrangements are so you can plan accordingly," it read.
Raiff sent a follow-up email March 24, explaining the issue with scheduling at the Schottenstein Center.
"Factors we considered included inclement weather, venue capacity, visibility of the graduate, a class of 2021 whole group experience, date availability and cost. Additionally, in making this decision, each principal met with student leaders and discussed what was important to them," Raiff wrote and cosigned with the four building principals. "What came out of those conversations were two goals. To allow the opportunity for the graduates to gather as a class and for parents and families to be able to see their graduate receive their diploma. We believe we will accomplish both of those goals with the plan shared yesterday despite the many obstacles which we face."
The principals are Olentangy's Rob Griffiths, Olentangy Orange's Trond Smith, Olentangy Berlin's Todd Spinner and Olentangy Liberty's Michael Starner.
"The Schottenstein Center on The Ohio State University campus was booked for May 23, 2021, for all four graduation ceremonies. The district has been in frequent contact with the venue to explore all opportunities to hold the 2021 graduation ceremonies as planned," he wrote.
"Currently, the Ohio State University is not allowing outside parties to hold events on campus. Ohio State does not have a date set for re-evaluation of this decision or an estimated date for the end of this mandate. While we can’t speak for other organizations or school districts who have stated that they are holding events in the coming weeks or months at The Schottenstein Center, we have re-confirmed this morning that the above remains the same – the campus and its facilities are not open to outside organizations."
Raiff addressed the school board during its March 25 meeting.
"There is not one perfect solution. Our goal all along was to select a commencement plan to honor and recognize the class of 2021," he told board members. "We think this provides a lot of opportunities for students and families to celebrate the class of 2021.
"We know other districts are planning stadium graduations or holding out hope for the Schottenstein Center. This is our plan moving forward," he said. "The last thing I want to do is disappoint anybody. I feel badly that there are people who aren't able to accept this decision. It's disappointing we can't do what everyone wants.
"There are people who genuinely enjoyed last year's commencement walks; they embraced it; they decorated their cars," he said. "What we found, for the people who really embraced it, it became about each and every individual child."
Leslie Lane, vice president of Columbus Arena and Sports Entertainment, said, “I can confirm that we are currently in talks with several schools that held dates at the Schottenstein Center and are working with university leadership and local health officials seeking approvals on a case by case basis.”
She said questions about individual school should be directed to the districts.
Parents and residents took to social media to express their frustration, commenting on the ThisWeek Olentangy News Facebook page's post.
"Surely as a district and community we can’t come up with a better option for these kids other than a drive thru," Jenny Spriggs Kinkead wrote. "They have lost a homecoming, prom, football games, basketball games and simply being together as a group for almost the entire year. I think we owe it to them as a community a better send-off than this. Surely whatever we were paying for the Schott was much more expensive than any audio equipment needed for a high school football stadium. I understand spectator restrictions but that is a small price to pay to give them their moment."
"NOT acceptable Olentangy. Host a proper graduation on the football field at each high school. Enough is enough," Victoria Straub wrote.
"As a person in the 65+, I understand the need to shut down for safety because of a worldwide pandemic," Tina Bobos Roznawski wrote. "I think Olentangy has done a great job (hybrid) in keeping this school year going because they value education. Teachers are working harder than ever in these unprecedented times. That said, I still believe they can host a graduation safely."
Graduation will be marked in three parts. A student-only Senior Sunset Salute will be held May 21, at which seniors may gather, in caps and gowns, to hear traditional student and staff remarks, which will be recorded for inclusion in a virtual graduation to be posted online at a later date and during which each graduate's name will be read.
A drive-thru, walk-up commencement also will be held, with graduates able to receive their diplomas while family members remain in their vehicles.
The schedule will be as follows:
• Olentangy Berlin High School – 9 a.m. Saturday, May 22
• Olentangy Liberty High School – 2 p.m. Saturday, May 22
• Olentangy High School – 9 a.m. Sunday, May 23
• Olentangy Orange High School – 2 p.m. Sunday, May 23
ThisWeek assistant managing editor Scott Hummel contributed to this story.