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As schools cancel homecomings, frustrated parents consider hosting large private dances

As schools cancel homecomings, frustrated parents consider hosting large private dances

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A few parents fed up with pandemic restrictions are going around the schools and planning private homecoming dances of their own, which has some health officials worried.

A few parents fed up with pandemic restrictions are going around the schools and planning private homecoming dances of their own, which has some health officials worried. (Alexey Novikov/Dreamstime/TNS)

AKRON, Ohio — The pandemic killed high school proms.

It put the kibosh on traditional graduation ceremonies, too.

Now, as students across Ohio head back to school this fall, many are learning that the spread of COVID-19 is about to nix the next rite of passage for American teens.

Homecoming dances are being canceled, postponed indefinitely, or under threat as school and health officials weigh how best to keep kids safe from a disease that spreads whenever people get together, especially when they're close, like dancing cheek to cheek.

Many students and parents grudgingly accept this as the cost of slowing COVID-19, which has so far killed more than 192,000 Americans, or the equivalent of the population of Akron.

But a few parents fed up with pandemic restrictions are going around the schools and planning private homecoming dances of their own, which has some health officials worried.

Karen Kolar of North Royalton planned the largest alternative homecoming in northeast Ohio — a dance for 300 students.

Kolar said she's watched the toll COVID-19 cancellations and prevention measures have taken on her children. She wanted her son, who entered his junior year at North Royalton High School this year, to experience a moment of normalcy.

Kolar, her sister and a small group of parents this month rented a church pavilion, came up with a list of safety precautions and posted a flier on social media advertising a Fall Harvest Dance.

Only people who belonged to a group called NORO (North Royalton) Nation could see it.

Tickets cost $15 and are limited to 300 North Royalton High School students. Masks, the flyer said, would be optional.

"We need to learn to live with this virus, just like every other virus," Kolar later said in an email to the Akron Beacon Journal. "My son needs to get back to what is somewhat of a normal school year with normal school functions."

Kolar said she had a lot of support from North Royalton parents and students.

Yet as word has spread outside the private NORO Facebook page, not everyone — including the Cuyahoga County Board of Health — was pleased.

Dancing, even while wearing masks, is risky amid a pandemic, Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said.

In Ohio, health officials do not have the authority to tell schools what to do during the pandemic. But Skoda said they work closely with all schools — public, private, charter and religious — on best practices, from how to re-start classes to whether they should have homecoming.

Dances have inherent risk, she said. Breathing on each other, touching and being crowded together on a dance floor could all spread of COVID-19.

Line dancing might be safer, Skoda said, but only if organizers could guarantee that all people stayed 6 feet apart at all times and never crowded together.

Many northeast Ohio schools, some already seeing COVID-19 outbreaks among students and staff during the first weeks of fall semester, believe homecoming dances are too risky.

In Akron, where classes resumed entirely online, there was no consideration for in-person activities like dances.

But in nearby Barberton, where children are mostly back in school classrooms, high school Principal Henry Muren said recently that he had to make a tough call. After consulting with four other area principals, he decided to cancel the Magics homecoming dance, though he wasn't looking forward to telling the students.

"I had to do the same thing for prom last year and it's best to rip it off like a Band-Aid and just tell them," Muren said.

Most schools are looking for creative solutions.

At Nordonia High School, the homecoming dance is postponed until late November or December, but it may ultimately be canceled, Principal Casey Wright said last week.

The school will move forward with the tradition of electing a homecoming queen and king and Wright has been working with student council to come up with a non-dance way to celebrate homecoming.

Seniors considered a trip to the Akron Zoo, camping out on the Nordonia football field or watching outdoor movies at Akron's Stan Hywet Hall. But in the end, they decided on a trip to Cedar Point.

After the Beacon Journal contacted Cuyahoga County health officials to see if Kolar's plan for a dance was OK under Ohio law, Suzanne Hrusch, a program manager for school environments, researched it and said the dance shouldn't happen as planned.

Hrusch said she called Kolar and outlined some of the reasons why.

Among other things, she told Kolar about "Dine Safe Ohio," an order mandating that gatherings must use licensed food vendors.

Kolar had intended for parents to provide the food at the Fall Harvest Dance.

Hrusch said parents don't have the needed training, even for everyday things like allergens.

Also, Hrusch reminded Kolar that Ohio banned mass gatherings of more than 10.

It can be confusing because schools, for example, can host more than 10 for an event like ACT or SAT testing, but that's because it's a normal function of the school, she said.

"But schools can't host parties or luaus. Does it sound fun? Yes. But unfortunately we're trying to limit all extracurricular activities," Hrusch said, pointing out that children infected with COVID-19 are often asymptomatic, but spreading the disease.

Hrusch said the conversation with Kolar never made it to the need for mandatory masking before Kolar told her that she hadn't considered liability and other issues and would cancel the dance.

But Kolar also told Hrusch she wasn't the only parent planning alternative homecoming dances, Hrusch said.

She knew of parents from at least two other area schools hosting similar events, Hrusch said.

Kolar declined to say who or which schools were involved, but Hrusch said she understood why and complimented Kolar.

"This gal has her children's best interest in mind," she said.

Last week, Kolar confirmed the Fall Harvest Dance was off.

Omaha World-Herald: Momaha

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