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Prom with virus protocols still sweet for Clark County students

By , Columbian staff writer
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Colorful lights illuminate the gym at Fort Vancouver High School as students keep their distance while enjoying music, dancing and time with friends at the 2021 prom May 22. Some Clark County school districts did not permit traditional proms this spring for a second consecutive year because of COVID-19 safety restrictions. Others forged ahead this spring doing modified events or parent-driven pop-up proms not sponsored by schools.
Colorful lights illuminate the gym at Fort Vancouver High School as students keep their distance while enjoying music, dancing and time with friends at the 2021 prom May 22. Some Clark County school districts did not permit traditional proms this spring for a second consecutive year because of COVID-19 safety restrictions. Others forged ahead this spring doing modified events or parent-driven pop-up proms not sponsored by schools. (Photos by Amanda Cowan The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Jamie Ueda wasn’t about to miss a time-honored high school tradition of prom — even if a mask concealed her carefully applied makeup and no high heels were allowed on Fort Vancouver High School’s gymnasium floor.

“I wanted it to be perfect,” the senior said. “I got the dress I wanted, and it took forever to do my hair.

“I wanted to come for the experience.”

That experience is prom with an asterisk, COVID-19-style. Some Clark County school districts did not permit traditional proms this spring for a second consecutive year because of COVID-19 safety restrictions. Others forged ahead, doing modified events or parent-driven pop-up proms not sponsored by schools. For many students, even a modified event capped off a year of disappointments and missed opportunities.

“This is like a light at the end of the tunnel,” said junior Reagan Walczyk, who, along with Emma Garrett, led the organizers of Fort’s prom May 22.

How it got pulled off at Fort started with plenty of planning and contingency planning. Garrett and Walcyzk, both juniors, combed through pages of Gov. Jay Inslee’s safety guidance for how to plan a large school event in a safe way. School administrators signed off on their plans.

The two-hour event inside Fort’s gymnasium was limited to 400 guests and tailored around COVID-19 safety protocols: temperature checks and attestation forms at the door, DJ-played songs promoting socially distanced line dancing and an outdoor entertainment area featuring various games and activities for those wanting fresh air. Those were in addition to signature prom happenings of naming a prom king and queen, and a professional photo for $1.

Both juniors had their fellow students in mind the entire time of planning.

“We really value our student body and our seniors especially have missed out on so much,” Garrett said. “No homecoming, football games, not a normal graduation. We’re trying to squeeze in as many of those kinds of school-spirit events into this while remaining COVID safe and following guidelines.

“This is really about them.”

At Hockinson, nearly 25 percent of its student body attended a 45-minute on-campus prom May 8. Lights and sparklers illuminated the outdoor courtyard, and walls inside were decorated with staffers’ high school prom photos. Students ended the night of “Wish Upon A Star” with a Rice Krispies Treat.

Short and sweet, but also memorable.

“That was their focus — to create a memory for them,” Associated Student Body adviser Beth Tugaw said of the prom committee. “They knew it had to be simplified and create a memory.”

Going it alone

Students and families in other districts are organizing their own proms without school support.

A GoFundMe for Washougal’s seniors raised more than $3,000 for a parent-organized non-school-sanctioned event May 8. Hudson’s Bay senior parents are holding a Prom at the Park pop-up event June 5 at a nearby city park. Cost is $5, and most everything from photography to decorations will be done through donations, said Cymany O’Brien, president of the Bay senior parent group. They’ve recruited 30 chaperones to enforce COVID-19 safety guidelines — including mask-wearing. She noted it’s a casual event, but also tuxedo optional.   

“(Prom) really does matter to the kids,” O’Brien said. “We’re trying to provide this fun and safe event for the kids, and make it memorable.”

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