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Prom or Pass?

It has been one entire year since the COVID-19 pandemic changed our world and canceled many memorable, spring events for schools—including prom. Fast forward to this spring, prom is a topic that is being discussed quite frequently as many students hope to experience the memorable high school tradition. So, should schools consider having a prom this year? Many have been left to decide—prom or pass?

On March 1, 2021, the Order of the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health for Mitigation and Enforcement effective on November 27, 2020 was amended with updates including gathering size limitations. The information below reflects the Amended Order as of March 1, 2021 which applies to school activities within and outside of the classroom. Holding a “traditional” prom involves a whole host of problems—mainly that it is inconsistent with the state’s limitations relative to social distancing. This has led many schools to discuss the idea of having some form of an outdoor prom or outdoor gathering. A common thought has been to host an event outside in a tent. It is important to note that to be regarded as an outdoor space, tents must be open on two sides. Enclosed tents are not considered outdoor spaces because enclosed structures, including enclosed tents, would limit air circulation and undo the benefits of being outdoors.

Currently, the occupancy limits for an event or gathering under the Amended Orders is that indoor events and gatherings are limited to 15% of maximum occupancy. On the other hand, outdoor events and gatherings are limited to 20% of maximum occupancy. Beginning April 4, 2021, however, revised maximum occupancy limits for indoor events will allow for 25% of maximum occupancy, regardless of venue size, and maximum occupancy limits for outdoor events to allow for 50% of maximum occupancy, regardless of venue size. Maximum occupancy is permitted only if attendees and workers are able to comply with the 6-foot physical distancing requirement. Any staff that would be needed for an indoor or outdoor event would also be included in these gathering limitations. All individuals present count towards gathering limitations and must also comply with the Face Covering Order and physical distancing guidelines.

According to Pennsylvania guidelines, event hosts are required to maintain a list of all guests in attendance at any gathering, including phone numbers, fourteen (14) days after the event. This information may be critical for contact tracing or further outreach, if necessary. If having a prom or social gathering, it is imperative that all attendees practice physical distancing while attending the event. Again, despite any creative attempts to craft a more “traditional prom experience,” organizers still need to maintain a minimum of 6-foot physical distancing radius between non-household members, including individuals that may arrive together but are not from the same household. Many schools have also considered hosting a “fair” of sorts on their athletic fields. Any type of “fair” is also considered an event and is subject to the indoor and outdoor gathering limitations.

If schools decide to move forward with booking a location to host a prom or consider hosting some form of a social gathering or outdoor celebration resembling prom, any agreements with the venues or vendors will need to incorporate appropriate language to ensure the schools can cancel due to any COVID-related concerns leading up to the event. All contracts should also include clauses relating to proper sanitation and the use of face-coverings for venue staff and all vendors. Furthermore, all agreements must include language which ensures that the venues and vendors are complying and enforcing all COVID-related protocols that they are required to comply with under the PA guideline (those guidelines can be found here). These are all important considerations that will need to go into the planning process. Ultimately, any sort of “traditional prom” would not be consistent with Pennsylvania’s Amended Orders.

As always, the School Law Group at Stock and Leader monitors all COVID-19 developments in the education sphere. Members of our group are ready to discuss concerns, answer questions, and provide counsel on any of your school district’s issues.

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