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Local high schools planning modified in-person proms

SALISBURY — Local high schools are planning prom in-person amid a waning pandemic and after having to cancel the events last year

The signature high school events will have a different look this time around, including outdoor venues and mask requirements as well as quick turnarounds for organizers.

Kim Etters, a Salisbury High School English teacher who has been coordinating the school’s prom for well over a decade, said posters for the event went up around school on the last day students were in school for the 2019-2020 year. Gov. Roy Cooper called off classes for two weeks initially before they were canceled for the entire year.

Etters said last year’s canceled prom was inspired by James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic “Avatar,” with the goal to transport students to the film’s setting planet of Pandora. All the handmade set pieces, including papier-mâché flowers and foam mountains, have been sitting and waiting to be used.

Planning proms outside has become the new standard. For this edition, SHS will host it in the courtyard with tents. Etters had to spring in to action a few weeks ago when it became feasible to host a prom in the first place, securing a tent and a DJ on short notice. She made one other arrangement as well.

“I ordered no rain that night,” Etters said, though she is also making contingency plans if the weather does not cooperate.

Carson High is taking a different approach. Last year was supposed to be Roaring ’20s themed — done up with glitz ripped from the pages of “The Great Gatsby” — but this year the school is changing the theme to be more low-key and pandemic-appropriate, with a woodland masquerade. The theme ties in with the mask requirement.

Both Etters and Carson prom coordinator Erin Barringer described similar safety setups. Students must wear masks, except while eating. The outdoor settings provide natural ventilation and space. Both coordinators say they are paying attention to the CDC’s 15-minute continuous exposure guidance.

Etters said the school needs to think about the 15-minute period. There may be breaks this year instead of a night of blaring music.

“Masks are going to be our most reliable form of protection,” Barringer said.

Both proms are planned for late May, and gathering restrictions may be different by then as the pandemic continues to wane in North Carolina.

Barringer said the process at Carson is usually multiple months long. It begins in September, with hours of meetings by the student committee and building decorations. This year, students could not meet after school. The prospect of holding a prom at all was grim in January given the state of the pandemic. When Barringer was told schools could plan for prom this year, she was overjoyed.

“I’ve been keeping a secret notebook of prom plans,” Barringer said.

Etters said she has already sunk close to 20 hours into planning for the event. She sees the chance for kids to come out and enjoy themselves in a formal setting as another part of the process of educating the whole child.

“I want these kids to have a great experience,” she said.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools is expecting to have an official decision on the handling of graduation ceremonies next week.

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