Earlier this week Anne Arundel County Public Schools announced that it would postpone school-sponsored homecoming dances, citing fear of spreading COVID-19, but half of the Board of Education supports moving the events outside rather than postponing.
At the start of the Board of Education meeting Wednesday, parents excoriated Superintendent George Arlotto for the system’s decision to postpone dances.
“You’re masking our kids, you’re taking away the homecoming. You’re making us parents give up our lives to teach them. We’re exhausted. We’re out in the rain protesting,” parent Melissa Idleman said.
Some argued that the system should have looked to Montgomery or Howard counties, which are holding outdoor dances. Some said canceling homecoming dances but allowing students to eat in crowded lunch rooms and walk in crowded hallways didn’t make sense.
“I’ve seen pictures where they’re so close to you, where you can’t even breathe. Why are you not allowing them to be on the dance floor?” parent Rachel Laird said.
While the system is postponing the homecoming dance, other events like pep rallies and Spirit Week celebrations will continue, and schools are allowed to hold outdoor gatherings.
The largest school system in the state, Montgomery County, assembled a Homecoming Innovation Committee which met in August, according to the system’s website, and came up with recommendations for the traditional celebration. The committee suggested, and that system will implement, homecoming dances outdoors in the open air, earlier in the day, without tents and with a rain date. Baltimore County Public Schools, the third largest system in the state, have canceled their dances.
Student Member Bunmi Omisore said the comparison to other districts was unfair: Howard County is smaller than AACPS, and Montgomery County has a head-start planning an outdoor event, which Anne Arundel doesn’t have.
Arlotto said he made the decision to postpone dances based on the advice of high school principals, and with a focus on keeping students happy, health and in school learning every day. That means the system is taking steps to prevent outbreaks which could shut down or otherwise interrupt in-person learning.
He said he understands the importance of the school dance as a former high school principal, but that he does not think schools would have been able to provide the traditional homecoming experience while taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID.
Would the dance cause the virus to spread rapidly? Arlotto said he wasn’t sure.
“I have no crystal ball. But I know it has a potential more-so than not having a dance,” he said.
He said principals were not comfortable with the idea of outdoor homecoming dances as an alternative to indoor dances, but that avenue was not extensively discussed.
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Answering questions from board members, Arlotto said the difference between a student eating in a crowded lunch room and standing on a crowded dance floor is the necessity of the activity: students need to eat to function, but they don’t need to attend dances.
After discussion, a motion was made to allow schools to hold homecoming dances on campus, but outdoors. The board typically has eight members, so five votes are needed to get approval. The board has been down one member in recent weeks, as District 1 Member Candace Antwine died this past July.
Four members voted to hold homecomings outside: President Melissa Ellis, Corine Frank, Michelle Corkadel and Robert Silkworth. While that was a majority of the members present Wednesday, it did not meet the five-vote threshold for approval.
“We definitely have crowded events going on outdoors now and so I just don’t see a justification for this one particular event being cut, when we have all these other things going on,” Ellis said.
Bunmi Omisore, Dana Schallheim and Joanna Bache Tobin voted against the measure. Omisore said she wasn’t clear on how the issues raised when postponing homecoming would be addressed if the event were to move forward in spite of the principals and superintendent suggesting it not.
“Some might feel that if you postpone homecoming until the spring semester, then it’s not a homecoming dance,” she said. “But you know, having to social distance and to wear a mask and not do the fun things you do at dances kind of sullies that experience as well.”
Gloria Dent was appointed to the body by the County Council to replace Antwine and sworn in on Thursday, a day too late to vote on the homecoming matter.