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Admin deems risk too great to host school dances

There’s nothing quite like St. Louis University High in the springtime: the warm weather, the exams and, of course, the awkward text invites, corsage putting-on difficulties, and deliberately thought out Instagram captions inspired by class dances. This year, however, neither the seemingly invincible energy of a SLUH dance nor the cultural significance of prom could survive Covid-19 protocols. 

Art: Charlie Bieg

“Dances are one of the most challenging types of events that one could do in a pandemic,” said principal Ian Gibbons S.J. “You've got close contact, you've got young people just not really cognitively thinking about the protocols that are needed, you've got singing, you've got yelling, you've got all kinds of excitement, and you know that presents all the grave challenges and the potential spread of the virus. There are strong challenges in moderating (these dances).”

Aware that prom was weighing heavily on seniors’ minds, the administration's first response to the prom issue was a complicated school-sponsored event that involved separating the class into smaller cohorts and thorough safety protocols. Students, though, already anxious for social gatherings, saw the new dances as a let down.

“At first I think all of us were frustrated, especially since we were looking at other private schools and seeing that they were allowed to do certain things,” said senior Tim Torrez. “Prom is one of the big events of senior year. Obviously not having mixers and sporting events hurt, but prom is prom, you talk about it for years. We wanted to go out with a bang.”

“We had heard about the format and we were like, there’s no reason for us to do (the school’s prom), we would rather not go than have that prom. It was kind of a group consensus,” agreed senior James Brunts.

Gibbons, though, tried to keep the larger picture in mind, knowing that the risks and potential fallout of a prom Covid outbreak were high. 

“We knew that we wanted some final celebrations and dances for the school, but we just simply couldn't do it as a school event. It has too many risks to the bigger project of what we're trying to do,” said Gibbons.

Gibbons stressed that an exposure at a school dance could affect events like graduation and even Direction Days. With stakes as large as that, even students could understand the risk of dances.

“I agree with that,” said Torrez, in response to hearing Gibbon’s concerns. “Absolutely, if you get sick we don’t want you at graduation, but I feel like that can be a little excessive especially because in order for us to go to their prom in the first place we would’ve needed a negative test or a vaccine,” said Torrez. “If we have proof that we don’t have Covid, why can’t we have a semi-normal prom? In my opinion, it’s a little excessive, but I do see where they’re coming from.”

As the senior class especially voiced significant opposition to the adapted prom idea, Gibbons and the administration ultimately settled on a self-determination policy: students may hold dances outside of SLUH if they so choose, but the school will not plan an event. 

“We approached StuCo and discussed possible alternatives that could be put into place. The students seriously looked at those pieces but decided they would rather have a celebration later in the summer, when all the events are over, and they can focus on just that (dance), and certainly when we're not going to tell them what they can't do,” said Gibbons.

Brunts, who works at a local country club, immediately recognized the chance to hold a dance there and began work planning a new prom, one separate from SLUH. Brunts was keen to point out, though, that just because the seniors want fewer restrictions, they do not intend to have no restrictions. Overall, Brunts believes the safety measures, combined with increasing vaccinations, will make the event a safe success.  

“Here’s the bottom line: our class is getting vaccinated at a very high rate. I believe that by the time prom comes many people will have their second shot. Plus, we are still concerned about safety. Masks will be required and I will be hiring private security to enforce that rule. People are going to have to be respectful of the global situation. We are going to keep it pretty much on lockdown but we needed the regulations to be a little more lax and we needed to wait until it wasn’t SLUH’s responsibility anymore.”

Brunts also stressed that the senior class did not want to potentially hurt SLUH’s image by keeping less strict protocols at a school-sponsored event and that they were well aware of their continued representation of SLUH. 

Similar plans are already in place for a Junior Ring dance, as parents have begun planning a dance for juniors this summer. The administration has communicated with parent organizers to suggest dates and protocol for the event, but has still remained out of the actual planning process.

“We've spoken with the guys who are interested in the program and event to let them know, whether it's at school or elsewhere, the risks are very high for an event like that and there are things to do to mitigate elements of that,” said Gibbons. “They have to be responsible for those pieces, and it’s challenging because administrators and faculty have real authority in the school, versus parents and family friends who are just trying to put on an event for teenagers that don't live in their house. It’s an incredible challenge and it’s not one that I would recommend (taking on).”






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