VANCOUVER -- Graduating high school students in a Vancouver Island school district are petitioning against the district's decision to hold a virtual graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns.

Gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned in British Columbia since March, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said she expects large gatherings to be among the last events to resume as B.C. lifts restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In the eyes of some students in school district 62, which includes Sooke and surrounding areas on Vancouver Island's West Shore, those restrictions shouldn't necessarily preclude them from having an in-person graduation.

A petition with more than 1,700 signatures on calls on the district to reconsider its decision.

"We understand that due to the circumstances of COVID-19 that we will not be able to have our grad ceremony by the end of June, but instead of prolonging it SD62 has decided to cancel it completely and instead give us an online version of a graduation ceremony," the petition reads.

As an alternative, the petition suggests waiting until the prohibition on large gatherings is lifted - which could conceivably mean holding a graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 in 2021 - or looking to other provinces for examples of coronavirus-friendly ceremonies.

"Even if it is not possible to have a traditional grad ceremony, we should at least be able to have a drive through grad like Ontario had, where they still got to take photos and receive their diplomas from their teachers," the petition suggests.

That would be a significant change from what the school district has planned.

In a video message to students and families this week, Superintendent Scott Stinson laid out the district's plan for a virtual ceremony.

The district is working with a professional video production company to produce a compilation of graduation speeches, as well as photos and statements from each graduating student, Stinson said. The video will be shared in a live, online event, allowing students to gather virtually and share comments with each other in real time, he added.

"It'll look different," he acknowledged. "It won't be walking across the stage as you have seen others in past years do, but it will be a fitting tribute to you and the work that you've done in your schools, through the years."

"We're sorry that your graduation is ending in this way," he added.

The petition argues that "an 'online graduation' is simply not good enough and should be rethought."