New COVID-19 guidance helps Minnesota schools plan for prom, graduation

Bloomington Jefferson High School students dance at prom at the Mall of America in 2019. (Bloomington Jefferson High School)

The Minnesota Department of Health and Department of Education came out with new COVID-19 guidance this week for high schools trying to plan proms and graduation ceremonies.

From dances potentially moving outside to color-coded wrist bands, all sorts of options are being considered right now. 

After last year's prom was canceled due to the pandemic, the principal of Bloomington Jefferson High School is aiming for a repeat of the district’s 2019 prom at the Mall of America, except with the addition of masks and most likely restricting the event to seniors only.

"They get all the rides and play and be kids for a little bit still," said Principal Dr. Jaysen Anderson.

New guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Education includes attendance limits, no food or beverages after 11 p.m., designated eating areas, plus students can dance and mingle in groups of six.

"But that pod has to stay six feet away from other pods, so we are already in the brainstorming stage of how can we facilitate that?" said Anderson. "Do we have kids sign up ahead of time of who is in their pod? Do they wear some sort of colored wristband to indicate common pods? Things like that are some of the brainstorming we are currently going through."

Meanwhile, Bloomington is working toward a commencement ceremony once again at the Minneapolis Convention Center, allowing for more social distancing.

Recommendations from state health leaders also include families can’t intermix unless it’s within their group of six, no lingering after the graduation ceremony and diplomas need to handed out touchless. 

"As we plan to bring more and more people together, where they will be sharing confined air space and the level of movement is unpredictable we want to build in administrative strategies to make these events as safe as possible," said Laura Oliven, a member of the safety and guidance team of experts at MDH during a webinar to school administrators.

Anderson believes even endless amounts of preparations will be worth it. 

"It was really reinforcing last year how important these memories are," said Anderson. "School is important, but these final memories in the spring especially for our seniors, it came to light how important those are for our seniors and our families."

April 1 is the marker when venues will be able to shift to higher capacities. In Bloomington, the focus is making sure all 400 seniors at Jefferson and another 400 from Bloomington Kennedy can all take part.