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Why One Metro School District Is Nixing Prom Despite State's Okay

Why One Metro School District Is Nixing Prom Despite State's Okay
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It's prom season, and the latest Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment public-health order, issued on April 15, specifically states that such events can take place this year despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Yet Littleton Public Schools has nixed proms for 2021 — a decision that's spawned a mix of reactions among parents, as well as an unsanctioned event scheduled for early May.

Diane Leiker, LPS's chief communications officer, stresses that the alterna-prom "is NOT a district or school-approved event," even as she defends the district's no-prom decision.

"There is a real disconnect between the CDPHE’s decision to allow counties to lift restrictions on large community and school gatherings while the CDPHE has told schools they must still follow the strict quarantine protocols through the end of the school year," Leiker maintains. "These quarantine protocols make it difficult for schools to host large indoor gatherings even though county health officials and CDPHE will allow them. Schools are caught in the middle."

The section of the CDPHE public-health order related to proms appears under the heading "Mass Indoor Gatherings" and states: "School proms and graduations that wish to exceed these thresholds shall be subject to review and approval by local public health agencies in accordance with CDPHE prom and graduation guidance."

At the same time, though, schools in the Littleton system, which has approximately 15,000 students, continue to be hit hard by the novel coronavirus. The district's COVID-19 dashboard update for April 21 lists fifteen active COVID-19 cases among students in the pre-kindergarten-through-fifth-grade category, ten for students in the sixth-through-eighth-grade slot, and 36 in the ninth through twelfth grades. In addition, there are four positive cases among staffers in the pre-K-through-fifth-grade range, two in the sixth-to-eighth-grade category, and one more described as "other."

The situation is particularly acute at Heritage High School. According to one Heritage parent, the school has sent out as many as twelve letters this month about students in quarantine related to approximately 25 positive cases.

"The number of quarantines in our schools has increased in the last month," Leiker confirms. "That is to be expected, as we brought all middle and high school students back to school every day. More students are in the buildings every day and are therefore subject to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s strict school quarantine protocols."

Why One Metro School District Is Nixing Prom Despite State's Okay (2)
Special to Westword

Yet some Heritage parents are moving forward with the alternative prom, slated to take place from 7 to 11 p.m. on May 8 at the Deep Space Event Center in Parker. The price tag is $35 per student and $65 per couple for the event, which promises "dancing, dance floor and DJ" plus "unlimited soda, lemonade and water" and "photo booth with immediate prints and text downloads."

Westword has been unable to reach the event's organizers, but a flier promoting it includes this footnote: "All COVID protocols will be followed."

The bash isn't news to Leiker.

"We are aware that a group of parents has organized a formal dance," she says. "This event is being hosted, planned, funded and supervised by parents. School officials discouraged parents from hosting the event. Neither Heritage High School nor Littleton Public Schools has any connection with the event nor any control over it."

A few weeks before the CDPHE issued its order allowing proms, Leiker notes, "there was no indication from public-health officials that large gatherings would be allowed this spring. Some districts have decided to move forward with these events, while many others have not."

Littleton Public Schools is definitely among the latter. "As we have done for the past year," Leiker concludes, "LPS made the decision to not host large indoor gatherings that have the potential to turn into COVID-19 'superspreader' events."

Click to read the April 15 Colorado COVID-19 public-health order.

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