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Olentangy Local Schools hosting pandemic-style commencement, despite ease on restrictions

Olentangy Local Schools plans on having a similar graduation ceremony to its 2020 class. Some parents in 2021 aren’t happy about it.

DELAWARE COUNTY, Ohio — Governor DeWine’s newly announced gathering restrictions and health orders come as the weather in Columbus starts to heat up. Now, people are planning for the day can enjoy each others' company or a ball game.

Festivals and events are able to use this guidance for scheduling and there is now a better idea of what high school proms and graduations may look like.

Olentangy Local Schools' graduation ceremony this year will look a lot like the previous year, featuring a drive-up commencement ceremony for four high schools. 

Students and families will still be able to get the photo-op of the principal handing their graduate a diploma, and those who cannot attend in person can stream the ceremony online, according to Superintendent Mark Raiff.

“Last year with all the problems with the shutdown we were not able to have our traditional graduation, so we put together a commencement walk,” said Raiff. “Our plan all along was to have a traditional graduation at the Schottenstein Center. But due to COVID protocols and cleaning, we were told we would have to move two of our graduations off of the May 23rd date, which would have pushed two of our schools into June [and] would have created a lot of scheduling conflicts for our students and their families.”

Some parents wrote to 10TV voicing frustrations with the plans, hoping for a different outcome to the end-of-year celebration.

“Our position is that we are in very different circumstances this year than we were last year, and all signs point to things improving,” said Karen Nussdorfer. “And we don’t think it is reasonable to use the plan used last year when the country was in a lockdown. It looks like we are coming out of this, and we believe that it is more appropriate to move forward with a more traditional ceremony. We support a graduation in the school stadium, with rain plans similar to The Ohio State University’s rain plans.”

Olentangy Local Schools expects 1,700 graduates this year between Liberty, Berlin, Orange and Olentangy High Schools. Raiff said other schools in Delaware County can hold ceremonies in football stadiums because they have an indoor space available during inclement weather. 

For his district, he says they don’t have a venue big enough to accommodate during a storm.

“These are large-scale events so we considered using our high school stadiums but again with seating capacity we would have to limit tickets and the experience we think would not have been as great as other options,” said Raiff.

Nussdorfer believes parents who want a traditional graduation never had an opportunity to voice their opinion.

There's a reason for that, according to Raiff. 

“We didn’t ask specifically for input because we knew the answer. If we asked everybody would you prefer a traditional graduation at the Schottenstein Center the answer would be yes. That would have been my answer too. I would love to be doing a traditional graduation ceremony at the Schottenstein Center. I think that would be true if we asked the same thing about the stadiums,” said Raiff. 

“But I don’t think people can clearly understand they are approaching this from an emotional standpoint as opposed to the fact that we have to plan large-scale events that take a lot of time to plan and to execute,” Raiff continued. 

Graduation for Berlin High School and Liberty High School will be held on Saturday, May 22. Olentangy High School and Orange High School graduation is scheduled for Sunday, May 23.

Nussdorfer said parents are expected to meet with the superintendent on Wednesday. A spokesperson from the district did not confirm if a meeting was scheduled.

RELATED: Big, outdoor events OK under simplified Ohio pandemic orders