LIMA — After a year of disruption and loss, high schools are trying to revive prom, graduation and other milestone ceremonies their students look forward to as an unusual school year comes to an end.
The Ohio Department of Health last week revised its mass gatherings order, allowing schools to host prom so long as schools comply with other health orders, like the state’s mask mandate and social distancing protocols.
While many schools are planning to host prom in-person, districts are still waiting for more detailed guidance from the Ohio Department of Health as they plan for these events and graduation ceremonies.
“They won’t look like they used to look before COVID,” said Tami Gough, public information officer for Allen County Public Health. “But they won’t like last year either, where they weren’t allowed to happen.”
For Allen East, that looks like an outdoor prom.
For other schools, Gough said, prom may look more like a formal dinner than the traditional dinner and dancing students in the past have become accustomed to.
“The pandemic has impacted these students for over one year, and our goal this school year has been to give them as many experiences as possible,” Wapakoneta schools Superintendent Aaron Rex said. “Prom and graduation are two milestones that we plan to make special for our high schoolers.”
And after a full school year of in-person classes, Lima schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman said she’s confident the district can host an outdoor graduation safely. While conversations about prom are still preliminary, Ackerman said the district is also exploring field trip opportunities so students can end the year on a lighter note.
“Kids are flexible,” she said. “They’ve adapted. I think they’ve just been happy to be in school because we know a lot of kids haven’t been in school and haven’t had any opportunities.”
The Ohio Department of Health has lifted the state’s curfew and loosened other health orders as more Ohioans are vaccinated against the virus and COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases continue to decline.
Banquet halls are no longer bound by a 300-person limit. Restaurants and bars can stay open later and resume their buffet lines. Sports and entertainment venues can welcome more spectators, even indoors.
Sometimes, Gough said, the health orders appear contradictory: Students who competed in wrestling matches were not allowed to shake hands, for example. And in the case of prom, students may dance but must remain socially distant, she said.
“We used to say at the beginning of this to always keep in mind the spirit of the order is to keep people as safe as possible, especially with social distancing and masks,” Gough said. “Because some things do sound like they make no sense, so how are we supposed to plan around that?… We get that. It’s the spirit of the order” that matters.