OTTUMWA — Ottumwa seniors may be getting two graduations in 2020.

“It’s overwhelmingly looking like the request of the senior parents and the senior students is to have as much of a typical celebration later on in the summer when that’s possible,” Superintendent Nicole Kooiker told the school board this week when discussing the results of a survey that went out to the Class of 2020. “They would like that traditional celebration if possible.”

Board member Christina Schark advocated for getting an official ceremony date for out to families as soon as possible in order to put uneasiness and misinformation to rest.

“Also, that allows families to plan their schedules and out-of-town participants,” she said.

Ottumwa High School Principal Richard Hutchinson agreed the survey results showed an overwhelming support for a “formal ceremony with as many family members as possible.”

“It makes me nervous,” he said, “just because I would hate to get to the end of July and August and find out we are still in this social distancing and we have to come up with a virtual graduation at that time.”

His suggestion was to look at doing both with the virtual date coming on May 24. He said some students may be moving on with their future plans by mid- to late summer. “Just to be on the safe side, I would love to do something on the original date that we planned, and then later on in the summer we can have a full-blown graduation,” Hutchinson said. “I don’t want kids to lose out because we waited until August.”

He stressed he would do whatever the board decides. “I guarantee you whatever that is, we will make it as appropriate as possible and we will make it very, very professional and classy.”

Schark suggested the possibility of holding a formal ceremony while maintaining social distancing guidelines. “I think we can still do social distancing to some degree at a facility that’s as big as something like Schafer” by spreading graduates out on the field and spacing parents out on both sides of the bleachers. “We can try our best, really, to make everybody happy.”

Jeremy Weller, board vice president, agreed with that idea. He said, doing the math, it would only take 40 yards of the field to space graduates out 6 feet apart and deep.

“There’s plenty of space for immediate family,” he said. “I know a lot of people want extended family coming, but this is an unprecendented time.

“Maybe it’s a time we only allow mother, father, brother, sister, siblings to attend the graduation.”

He added the suggestion live streaming the ceremony on the district’s YouTube site so that extended family could watch.

Weller also liked the idea of doing both a virtual and traditional ceremony. “For those that maybe don’t feel comfortable doing that because of social distancing, maybe we hold a second virtual graduation for them.”

“The only reason I push for the 24th of May,” said Hutchinson of the virtual ceremony, “is because it’s a date that’s been set for a whole year and a lot of people have made plans around that. I just want to make sure our kids get what they deserve.”

Board member Jeff Bittner agreed. “Whether they should be or not, people have got receptions planned,” he said. “They’ve maybe got rooms rented or time off. At least give them something that’s the official thing and then try to do an actual graduation later.”

Kooiker said that the district would work on a plan for a virtual graduation for May 24 and pick a date for late June or July for a traditional ceremony to bring to the board May 11.

“This is different. Nobody’s experienced this before,” Weller said. “We gotta think outside the box a little bit.”

“I just want to make sure the Class of 2020 gets as much as they possibly can,” Hutchinson said.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.


Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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