This weekend’s Brainerd High School prom is postponed due to rising COVID-19 cases, but district leaders have a plan.
BHS Principal Andrea Rusk told school board members Monday, April 12, of her proposal to move prom from April 17 to May 22 — the day after graduation — to make sure as many students as possible can attend.
“I am more confident this spring than I was last spring in making sure that we can carry out these events,” Rusk said.
As of Monday night, 272 Brainerd Public Schools students were quarantined after either having symptoms or being deemed as a close contact to other COVID-19 cases. There were 18 positive student cases Monday.
After surging to a 14-day per 10,000 case rate of over 200 in the fall, Crow Wing County’s rate had dropped to around 13 in February but is again on the rise. The latest data shows a rate of 75 new cases in the last 14 days per 10,000 residents, Human Resources Director Angie Bennett told the school board Monday. Health officials expect that rate to rise to over 100 in the coming weeks.
One of the biggest reasons for the recent uptick in cases and quarantines in the district is due to household positives, Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn said, meaning one person in a household tests positive and the rest of the family cannot isolate and therefore tests positive as well. Also for this reason, the district is seeing an increase in cases in its younger students.
And while large groups of students are having to quarantine after being in class with someone who tests positive, Hahn said very few of the quarantined students end up developing COVID-19.
Staff quarantines are remaining relatively low — with 17 staff members quarantined as of Monday — likely due to the wide availability of the COVID-19 vaccine.
With new variants of COVID-19 now spreading in the area as well, Bennett said COVID-19 symptoms are presenting as colds and allergies for many, which are common illnesses this time of year anyway. For these reasons, parents should be cautious of sending students to school with any illnesses, district leaders said.
Hahn also reminded families that if a parent has been tested for COVID-19, their child should remain home from school at least until the test results come back. Several students who have tested positive, Bennett added, had very mild symptoms or have been asymptomatic.
Prom, graduation and spring activities
Rusk said last week was tough, having to quarantine so many students.
“I think our teachers and our staff are doing really well with spacing the classrooms,” she said, “... but it’s terrible to tell a student that they have to go home for something they didn’t do. They weren’t being negligent. It’s just falling under the guidelines for safety.”
With so many students quarantined right now, many kids would likely miss this weekend’s prom, which is why Rusk proposed changing it to graduation weekend instead. And to make extra sure as many students as possible can attend, Rusk also suggested changing the seniors’ last day of in-person learning. Instead of May 14, the seniors’ last in-person learning day will now be May 11 to allow for a 10-day quarantine before graduation on May 21 and not put students in jeopardy of having to miss the ceremony. Prom would then take place the following night.
“First and foremost, I am — and we are — committed to having our seniors have an in-person commencement ceremony,” Rusk said.
The scheduling change means the last three days of school — Wednesday-Friday, May 12-14, would be distance learning days for all BHS seniors.
When asked about seniors at the Brainerd Learning Center and Lincoln Education Center, Rusk said they may opt for distance learning days at the end of the year as well, but that decision has not yet been made.
Prom will still happen at the Northern Pacific Center, the owners of which Rusk praised for being so flexible and understanding with all the sudden changes both this year and last year.
Spring Fling, the freshman and sophomore dance originally scheduled to take place this weekend, will be postponed to May as well, though a specific date has not yet been chosen.
“First and foremost, I am — and we are — committed to having our seniors have an in-person commencement ceremony,”
— Andrea Rusk, BHS principal
Rusk said there are still some questions about graduation — like how many tickets graduates will be able to get and what would happen if graduation has to be inside — that administrators can’t answer yet. But in terms of gathering sizes, Rusk said the graduates would be considered “performers” and would not be counted in the gathering size as long as they are at least 12 feet away from the audience.
“We’re not trying to skirt any safety protocols, but we’re trying to be creative and take a look at how we might be able to do that using our field,” she said.
Plans for Grad Blast are moving forward as well, Rusk said, though it will likely be a condensed celebration.
The grand opening of the high school’s new performing arts center will be postponed from the original May 1 date, but administrators believe they will still be able to safely use the space for the senior awards banquet set for May 5 and for the opening of the high school musical May 6.
Rusk attributed the reasoning for postponing prom but continuing on with some of the other events to a lack of structure in a dance setting.
“I think our students are fantastic and well-behaved at prom; however, at a dance situation, you have less structure and more mingling than you do in, say, a concert where people go to an assigned seat,” she said. “And that’s what I think is the difference between a prom and another large-scale event that we can safely host.”
Rusk said she believes this is the best plan to allow as many students as possible to participate in the much-anticipated end-of-year festivities like prom and graduation.
Board Chair Bob Nystrom applauded Rusk and her team for all the work they did and said the board fully supports the plan.
Not having prom this weekend as planned is hard on a lot of families, Superintendent Laine Larson acknowledged at the end of Monday’s board meeting, as are postponing the Spring Fling and other events.
“But I think in the long run we’re doing it for the right reason, and it’s going to work out for us,” Larson said.