High school seniors lost many traditions to COVID-19. Should prom be one of them?

Most 2020 proms were a casualty of the sudden shutdown of schools in March, as were high school plays, final band concerts and yearbook parties. But what about this year when most districts in Georgia reopened for face-to-face classes?
Most 2020 proms were a casualty of the sudden shutdown of schools in March, as were high school plays, final band concerts and yearbook parties. But what about this year when most districts in Georgia reopened for face-to-face classes?

A Gwinnett school plans an unconventional prom night with decor but no dancing

Should the high school graduating class of 2021, which already saw the pandemic upend many touchstones and traditions, lose prom as well?

Most 2020 proms scheduled for the spring became a casualty of the sudden shutdown of schools in March, as did high school plays, final band concerts and yearbook parties. Senior skip day lost its charm when students were already out of school and there was no place for students to congregate.

But what about this year when most Georgia school districts reopened for face-to-face classes? Will limousines deliver teens in tuxes and gowns to decorated halls in hotels, museums and theaters for what has long been considered the grand finale of high school?

Georgia reported more than 23,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus for the seven days that ended on Saturday, an improvement over prior the week when Georgia reported nearly 33,000 confirmed cases. Still, the virus continues to take a toll with Saturday marking a new state record for confirmed deaths reported in a single day, 178.

A reader sent me an email expressing concern over a Fernbank Museum prom planned by Paul Duke STEM High School in Gwinnett County. The note said, “This just blows my mind. It is ironic to me that the school has science in its name and would consider such reckless behavior. I thought you may want to look into it if you think readers might be interested.”

So, I contacted Gwinnett County Public Schools, the state’s largest district with 180,000 students, to ask about the prom at Paul Duke and its overall policy on proms during COVID-19. One out of 10 public school students in Georgia attends a Gwinnett school.

“This school is planning its event at Fernbank and students will sign up to attend the evening in shifts at different times. It will not be a traditional prom in that there will not be a dance floor,” said Sloan Roach, Gwinnett’s executive director of communication and media relations.

“Their prom experience will include the option for students to walk around the museum and take photos,” she said. “The school knows that not all of its seniors and juniors will opt to participate but did want to provide an opportunity for them to have a ‘prom’ night.’”

Roach said Gwinnett high schools are in the early stages of planning for proms. “While some have identified locations, others have not. Schools are prioritizing outside venues -- parking lots, stadiums, special events venues -- and some are considering splitting the evening to allow different groups to attend, holding more than one night of prom, or limiting the event to just seniors,” she said. “Masks will be required, and schools will include other safety measures.”

In talking to principals, Roach said, “Their goal is to provide these kids who have lost so much the opportunity to have a prom experience. The key here is that it is an option. Just as we offer families with the option of having their child attend school in-person or digitally, our schools are offering families a choice. We know that some may choose for their children to attend the prom and others will not.”

Is your district holding a prom this year? If so, under what conditions?

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