CUSD plans in-person graduations, no proms - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

CUSD plans in-person graduations, no proms

April 12th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
CUSD plans in-person graduations, no proms

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

The Chandler Unified School District is sacrificing proms this school year to keep high school seniors safe and healthy for in-person graduations.

For the second year in a row, the pandemic is preventing Chandler Unified high school students from celebrating the end of their spring semester with any type of school-sponsored dance or prom.

Superintendent Camille Casteel said she made the decision to eliminate prom with the hope that it would keep the district’s infection rate low enough to allow for in-person graduation ceremonies in May.

“There are a number of families upset about a lack of a prom,” Casteel said. “When we made the decision, it was in an effort to protect graduation.”

Chandler Unified’s decision puts it in line with all other East Valley districts, which also are planning in-person graduations.

Those districts are taking different approaches to proms and senior awards nights, with both Gilbert Public Schools and Higley Unified considering them However, some districts like Mesa Public Schools have not yet decided whether to sponsor proms. Scottsdale Unified indicated it will allow proms while Tempe Union will not..

CUSD’s 2020 graduations were all virtual with families having to watch from home as graduates walked up to get their diploma.

The format was not well received by many parents and some attempted to force CUSD to host in-person ceremonies by circulating petitions or sending angry emails to the school board.

This year, CUSD is planning to allow each graduate to invite only two guests to attend their ceremony. Students will be given two wristbands that must be worn by their attendees to gain access to the event.   

All attendees will be expected to wear masks and socially distance from each other. CUSD intends to still broadcast the ceremony online for family members who cannot attend in person.

Even though CUSD has chosen to prioritize graduation over prom, district leaders say schools are attempting to come up with some additional events.

“The schools are going to do a lot to celebrate and have fun activities for the seniors,” Casteel said. “We are doing our part to make sure the seniors have a great end of the year.”

Student leaders from the district’s high schools have spent the last few weeks brainstorming new ideas for events that could allow for seniors to safely congregate without the fear of contracting COVID-19 right before graduation.

Chandler High is considering some sort of parade that will celebrate its graduating class. Casteel High will be hosting a BBQ lunch for its seniors and handing out special “Class of 2021” masks for students to save as a keepsake. 

Brooke Romero, Hamilton High’s student body president, said her school has been trying to find creative ways to engage students digitally by incorporating more technology into school events.

Since the school has been having to conduct its assemblies virtually, Romero said the student government is trying to use popular applications like TikTok to make the virtual event feel more interactive for seniors.    

“We’re really hoping to recognize them and really give a spotlight to them because we know that they deserve it,” Romero said.

Basha High is hoping to host a movie night this month on the school’s football field, where students would be required to wear masks and socially distance.

Reed Uhlik, Basha’s student body president, said he believes the special event could help students feel a sense of normalcy again after a chaotic year.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity for us as a school to have a COVID-safe event and for us to bond together,” Uhlik said.

Despite the district’s efforts to offer alternative celebratory events, some CUSD parents have reportedly begun planning their own prom at Mesa’s Superstition Farm property.    

Flyers circulating online indicate that parents are intending to organize a private prom for graduating seniors from Casteel, Basha and Perry high schools. The ticketed events are not affiliated with CUSD and will require guests to show school identification to gain entry, according to the flyers.   

Since the dances are being held at a private venue, it’s unclear what type of precautions, if any, will be taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, especially in light of the fact that local leaders have begun to ease health restrictions.

Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke rescinded the city’s mask mandate after Gov. Doug Ducey last month ended Arizona’s statewide mask mandate and forbade counties and municipalities from issuing their own – although Flagstaff, Tucson and Phoenix have ignored his directive.

The Arizona Department of Health Services says it is currently up to individual cities to decide whether a large public gathering is safe.

If private proms expect to have more than 50 attendees, the City of Mesa may require organizers to provide a safety plan that explains how the transmission of COVID-19 will be prevented.

Some CUSD parents have expressed disappointment in seeing other parents organize private proms at such a precarious time and are hoping the dances won’t ruin graduation by spreading the virus around the district’s student body.   

“I sincerely hope these proms don’t mess up graduation,” said parent Linda Fenner, “especially for the kids that have been cautious with this virus and respectful of their peers.”