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Carroll County school official: Holding proms amid COVID-19 pandemic ‘completely unrealistic’

Eric King, the director of high schools for Carroll County Public Schools, said he is not against fun, but holding proms this spring would be problematic.

King recently told the Carroll County Board of Education that proms will not be held by the school system due to the coronavirus pandemic. In response, some parent-led groups are planning to hold their own, private proms, not affiliated with CCPS.

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Ed Singer, county health officer, said during the March 10 board of education meeting that a traditional prom would be a concern because of the difficulty to social distance. Singer told The Times close contact indoors can lead to outbreaks and the Carroll County Health Department continues to see that happen locally.

“The outdoor activities being planned to celebrate our seniors are much safer and preferable to indoor activities,” he said in an email through Maggie Kunz, health planner for the department. “The case numbers are rising again, and we are concerned that another wave of cases seems to be underway.”

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The number of COVID-19 cases reported by the health department through Friday was trending toward the highest weekly total since January and the rate at which COVID-19 tests are coming back positive was 6.08% Saturday, having more than doubled since early March.

King, who said he’s received feedback from parents since the announcement, said the school system has “pushed the envelope” when it comes to bringing students back into the classroom and allowing winter sports when many systems did not.

However, allowing kids to attend a school-run prom “just simply purely for fun is, to me, in no way worth the risk.” He added that contracting the virus could lead to students missing important events like graduation, graduation practice and exams.

“To me, a prom this year was just completely unrealistic,” he said.

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As of March 22, all CCPS students had the option of attending school at least four days per week. Graduations are planned to look more like a traditional ceremony last year, likely to be held an outdoor stadium. Sporting events can have up to 750 spectators for outdoor games, two people per each player can attend volleyball games and the governor recently eased some restrictions for spectators at stadiums and ballparks.

King said it’s risk vs. reward. The events the school system are allowing have more purpose beyond fun. He said graduation is a rite of passage and an accomplishment. High school sports can lead to opportunities for student athletes. It was also controlled when it came to visitors and it was approved by the health department and Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

A dance, however, is “just for fun,” he said.

King said he is hopeful the homecoming dance next fall will be closer to normal “but that is far from guaranteed.”

Tara Battaglia, board of education member, asked about prom during the March 10 meeting and clarified that the decision to cancel prom did not come from the board. She said she received feedback from parents thanking her for her question and coming up with a solution.

“I do think some type of solution could be done,” she said, adding examples like renting tents and venues.

Battaglia said she knows Winters Mill parents are holding a prom at the Union Mills Homestead.

“I know people have different feelings regarding it, but parents are tired of their kids losing out,” she said.

Battaglia said it’s out of the board’s hands but parents can unite and come up with a plan like they did for graduation last school year.

King said he is aware that parents in the community are holding their own proms, and, as a parent of a high schooler, he gets it. However, as a CCPS employee, he has zero say in what anybody in the community does.

“We’re still deep in the process trying to plan what we hope to be a really good graduation,” King said.

He added that canceling proms was one of the tough decisions central office had to make this year, but they are hopeful proms can return next year.

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