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No proms for Howard students amid COVID pandemic; in-person graduations with capacity limits still planned

Howard County public high schools won’t have proms this spring due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The indoor dances are not “safe and aligned to current health protocols,” Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said during the Board of Education meeting on March 25.

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Other school systems in Maryland, including Anne Arundel County and Harford County, have canceled their proms as well.

“A number of other school districts in the area have too canceled their proms for the obvious reasons we’ve discussed, like the challenge of social distancing,” Martirano said.

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While proms are canceled for high school students, each high school is planning to host senior night celebrations and awards ceremonies. The plan, Martirano said, is to have the awards ceremonies outdoors at each school with “limited guests able to participate.” Then, the celebration events for seniors only will be held afterward. They will be similar to senior class nights held in the past but with social distancing, masking and no food, Martirano said.

“We are allowing the latitude ... for our principals to plan those,” Martirano said. “We’re trying to take the elements and make it something unique ... for the schools to customize for themselves. We want to make that a very special evening.”

The school system continues to plan outdoor, in-person graduation ceremonies at Merriweather Post Pavilion later this spring. Those ceremonies are typically held in late May or early June.

“I am committed to in-person graduations and celebrations,” Martirano said. “We have been working very closely with Merriweather Post Pavilion to do everything possible to host this year’s graduation ceremonies there.”

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The last day of class for seniors will be May 28, about two and a half weeks before the official end of the school year.

While the dates and times for the commencement ceremonies are yet to be determined, the district has decided to limit the number of tickets to two per family to attend.

Martirano said the number of speakers and guests onstage will be “kept to a bare minimum.” Individual students and groups of two or three students will be allowed to perform in person, but band and orchestra performances must be prerecorded.

The school system is also planning to allow students in the Class of 2021 who choose to not attend the in-person ceremonies to still participate virtually. Last year, they used pictures and videos in prerecorded ceremonies streamed online.

“Our students have said they really want to have that graduation,” Martirano said.

Elementary and middle schools will also host celebrations at the end of the school year for their fifth and eighth grade students, respectively, he said, hopefully in person and outdoors.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s updated statewide orders in March allowing for larger capacities at events like graduations. The orders opened up large indoor and outdoor venues to 50% capacity, while keeping the state’s mask mandate.

Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, which has a large lawn space behind its covered seating, has a capacity of around 19,000. A Merriweather Post Pavilion spokesperson told WJZ-TV in mid-March that it wouldn’t be opening for concerts despite the governor’s more lenient orders.

Last spring, after the coronavirus first shuttered school buildings, the topic of graduations was an important one for many in the community, — especially for parents with seniors in the Class of 2020. The system decided to cancel the in-person events and instead streamed prerecorded ceremonies for its 12 public high schools, as well as Cedar Lane School and Homewood Center.

Meanwhile, some of the county’s private schools, like Glenelg Country School and Chapelgate Christian Academy, held drive-thru graduation ceremonies for its senior classes. Some neighborhoods even held small celebrations for the seniors who live on their street.

Martirano said he recognized that some parents would sponsor events unaffiliated with the school system for seniors.

“To clarify, we are not involved with, or endorsing, any activities sponsored by families or community members,” he said.

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